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Hillary Renews Bond With Children’s Defense Fund

November 19, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Hillary Clinton, in her first public appearance in Washington since the election, urged Americans on Wednesday to do more to help children realize their potential.

″All of us have to recognize that we owe our children more than we have been giving them,″ Mrs. Clinton said.

The soon-to-be first lady spoke at a benefit dinner for the Children’s Defense Fund, a leading voice for the young and the poor for two decades, and a group that she has been associated with for nearly that long.

President-elect Clinton and his wife attended the group’s annual fund- raising event Wednesday evening in Washington, where some 1,200 people contributing at least $300 apiece to attend.

The event honored five Washington-area students for overcoming poverty and other adversity to record achievements in school. Both Clinton and his wife attended a pair of receptions beforehand, where they greeted hundreds of well- wishers including actress Glenn Close.

The president-elect departed before his wife spoke to the crowd.

Mrs. Clinton, mother of a 12-year-old girl, Chelsea, said Americans should work to provide children with love, attention, discipline, good schools, safe neighborhoods and available health care.

″We all tonight are voices for children,″ she said. ″I hope and I trust that together all of us will do all we can to make sure no child is left behind.″

Mrs. Clinton’s ties to the Children’s Defense Fund go back nearly all her professional career.

She was a young staff lawyer for the organization in 1973 and 1974, before leaving for Arkansas and life with the president-elect. She joined the group’s board of directors in 1978 and became its chairman in 1986, serving until the presidential campaign forced her to step aside this year.

The Children’s Defense Fund is a public policy, lobbying, research and education organization that has advocated liberal positions on issues of concern to children and the poor.

Its name is synonymous with that of its founder and president, Marian Wright Edelman, a veteran of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Mrs. Clinton hailed her as ″my friend and mentor and leader.″

Mrs. Edelman said Mrs. Clinton would be ″the greatest first lady we have ever had.″

″She already is and will continue to be the first lady of and for children and families in America,″ Edelman said.

Sometimes abrasive but always respected, Mrs. Edelman has called herself ″a crank for change″ as she single-mindedly pressed for more government assistance, more programs and more friendly policies affecting children.

″She’s been the leading child-care advocate in the country for 25 years,″ said David S. Liederman, head of the Child Welfare League of America, a group that has pressed for many of the same causes.

″It’s probably the most effective organization in Washington - or in the country - working on children’s issues, and also the most effective in working on low-income issues,″ said Robert Greenstein, director of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, another liberal lobby.

″The Children’s Defense Fund broadens the bounds of what is possible,″ Greenstein said. ″That is really quite an accomplishment.″

The group’s most controversial moment may have come in 1990, when Mrs. Edelman found herself in a public feud over a child care bill with a pair of liberal Democratic congressmen who had been leading champions of children’s issues. Mrs. Edelman publicly rebuked her Democratic allies for what she said was foot-dragging.

But her targets, Reps. Thomas Downey of New York and George Miller of California, said they were pressing to make the federal spending an ″entitlement″ program, meaning it would not require separate appropriations from Congress each year.

At the time, Downey described Mrs. Edelman as a liberal relic of the Great Society, unable to confront the realities of the ’90s. And the broader view on Capitol Hill was that Mrs. Edelman wrecked her effectiveness.

But the bill eventually passed in a form that pleased both sides, and Mrs. Edelman professed to be unworried by the flap.

″The day I wonder about my popularity is the day we lose our effectiveness,″ she said.

The fund is a non-profit organization supported by grants and donations. It has a staff of some 120 people and a budget of $9 million.

Mrs. Edelman is the author of a book, ″The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours,″ that made the New York Times bestseller list this year.

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