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How Two Hillary Clinton Superfans Became Super-PAC Power Players

Meet the unlikely duo who hatched Hillary's shadow presidential campaign.

| Tue Feb. 18, 2014 6:56 AM EST
Ready for Hillary
Photo of Hillary: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

He's a 28-year-old reserve police officer completing a bachelor's degree in criminology at Virginia's George Mason University. She's a 62-year-old Eleanor Roosevelt scholar and history professor at George Washington University in DC. Adam Parkhomenko and Allida Black are unlikely friends; they are the even unlikelier masterminds of Ready for Hillary, a super-PAC that has risen from ragtag origins to become a central component of Hillary Clinton's shadow presidential campaign-in-waiting.

Parkhomenko and Black fall well outside the Clintons' rarefied inner circle of advisers, consultants, fundraisers, and confidantes. Both are Hillary superfans who until very recently were political neophytes. Yet since cofounding Ready for Hillary in January 2013, they've managed to raise $4 million, which they are channeling into building a massive database of supporters and volunteers that will become the foundation for Clinton's presidential run if she jumps into the race. (Within the Ready for Hillary world, there's little doubt that leap will come.) Parkhomenko and Black have also attracted key Clinton aides and allies to their super-PAC and thus have obtained the unofficial blessing of the Clintons themselves. These two groupies have worked their way backstage to hang out with the band.

Parkhomenko and Black first met in 2003 at a Halloween party hosted by Jim Turpin, then-chair of the Arlington County Democrats in Virginia. Parkhomenko was a 17-year-old community college student then, but he was already a Hillary Clinton crusader. That fall, he had created a website, VoteHillary.org, featuring a petition urging Clinton to enter the 2004 presidential campaign. It garnered over 100,000 signatures.

Parkhomenko and Black have also attracted key Clinton aides and allies to their super-PAC and thus have obtained the unofficial blessing of the Clintons themselves.

"I liked him," Black recalls of that first encounter, "because he pushed back with confidence and not with arrogance, which for a 17-year-old is a stunning feat." The two established a close rapport, even though Black found his notion of online organizing a tad naive. "She's been one of my best friends since I met her," Parkhomenko says. "We clicked."

Parkhomenko's online campaign failed to sway Clinton, but the effort got him noticed. He earned a Washington Post Magazine profile from Mark Leibovich. A framed copy signed by Clinton ("Adam—Thanks for believing!") now hangs in Parkhomenko's Ready for Hillary office.

Parkohmenko's pro-Hillary fervor also drew attention from Hill PAC, Clinton's political action committee. In December 2003, the group reached out to ask if he wanted to volunteer for the PAC. He accepted the invitation, put his community college classes on hold—"Hillary would always ask about school, just as much as my mom," he says—and soon worked his way up to full-time staffer.

Hill PAC was a small operation, merely four or five employees, and Parkhomenko split his time between the PAC and Friends of Hillary, Clinton's Senate reelection committee. He worked advance for Clinton events, wrote thank-you notes, and handled scheduling. He had been brought in by Patti Solis Doyle, a longtime Clinton hand—she worked as Hillary's scheduler in 1992—who oversaw the PAC and the election committee. Solis Doyle referred to Parkhomenko as her "chief of stuff."

When Clinton announced her bid for the presidency in 2007, Solis Doyle was tapped as her campaign manager. Parkhomenko became Solis Doyle's assistant—the gatekeeper to the gatekeeper of the presidential candidate. Parkhomenko was known throughout the campaign as Solis Doyle's right hand, which came back to bite him when Solis Doyle was fired in early 2008. Solis Doyle exited the campaign in February and Parkhomenko left soon thereafter. He was 22 years old.

Parkhomenko couldn't quite shake the Hillary bug. He created another pro-Hillary website that spring, VoteBoth.com, to encourage Clinton supporters to goad Obama into picking Clinton as his running mate. After that failed, Parkhomenko took a break from politics. He reenrolled at Northern Virginia Community College in the fall of 2008 and became a reserve police officer in Washington, DC. But he quickly returned to the political fold. In 2009, he ran for an open House of Delegates seat in Arlington, ultimately finishing third in a five-way race. After that, he buckled down on completing his college degree, later transferring from community college to George Mason University.

Though he lost touch with his old Clinton coworkers, Black and Parkhomenko remained close. He had moved into her spare bedroom during the 2008 presidential campaign after Black insisted that he not waste money on rent while living on a campaign staffer's salary.

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By the time of her first encounter with Parkhomenko, Black already had a couple decades of experience in politics and policy. One of her early brushes with politics came in 1973, during her final year of undergrad at Emory University, when she ditched classes for a full-time internship with then-Gov. Jimmy Carter's Commission on the Status of Women. She stuck around Atlanta after college, running a center for the city's gay residents. "When AIDS struck," she says, "it was pretty cataclysmic for me. I lost every male friend I had in Atlanta, including all the volunteers who worked for me at the gay center and tons of the kids I worked with who had runaway from home and were sexually abused." In 1988, she moved to DC to begin a Ph.D. program in history at George Washington University.

She would go on to teach at Franklin & Marshall, Penn State University-Harrisburg, Gallaudet University, and other schools before landing back at George Washington. She focused her studies on Eleanor Roosevelt, not for her role as a first lady but for her later work pushing human rights issues around the world. Black doesn't see much coincidence in the fact that her two political idols both happened to be the spouse of a president. "There are obvious comparisons, but there are obvious differences," she says. "Eleanor did a little policy; Hillary was born to do policy. Eleanor helped introduce and build a modern human rights movement, and Hillary has taken it into places that Eleanor only dreamed it would reach. There are leadership parallels and there are vision parallels, but I come to Eleanor not really as a first lady. I come to her as a party leader and as an architect of human rights."

Black has published 10 books, mostly collections of Eleanor Roosevelt's writings. She edited a book of academic essays titled Modern American Queer History. Michelle Obama penned the introduction to Black's 2009 book, The First Ladies of the United States of America.

She has closely watched Clinton's career long before she became first lady. "I started hearing about Hillary in '75," she says. "I knew she was on the Watergate judiciary committee staff, but what I kept hearing about was the work that she had done for legal aid and the work that she had done for kids." On her meager grad school stipend Black chipped in $35 for Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign. "I was for Bill because of Hillary," she is fond of saying.

During the 1990s, Black intermittently interacted with the White House. Staff would periodically call to ask for Eleanor Roosevelt quotes for use in speeches. She gave a presentation on Roosevelt to the President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History, a panel convened by Bill Clinton. She eventually became a consultant to the group. Black received seed money from the commission for the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project, a program she oversaw at George Washington that researched the former first lady's writings on human rights. Hillary Clinton sat on its advisory board, but played a minimal role. Black recalls Clinton phoning her students twice to offer encouragement during the early 2000s, and Clinton headlined one fundraiser for the project.

In 2008, Black tapped into her retirement fund to travel across the country as a Clinton volunteer, hitting 14 states to stump for the former first lady. She wore the same pair of bright orange Nike high-tops everywhere she went, which Clinton later autographed. Black was among the Hillary supporters who protested outside Democratic National Committee meetings to get Clinton's delegates from Michigan and Florida seated.

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