Walker County native shared the stage with Bill Clinton at 1992 Democratic convention
by Jennifer Cohron
Sep 02, 2012 | 1432 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
J.R. Hammond displays the Christmas card he received from the White House in 1993. Hammond, who ran as “Working Man” Hammond, was a delegate at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and made two appearances onstage alongside nominee Bill Clinton. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
J.R. Hammond displays the Christmas card he received from the White House in 1993. Hammond, who ran as “Working Man” Hammond, was a delegate at the 1992 Democratic National Convention and made two appearances onstage alongside nominee Bill Clinton. Photo by: Jennifer Cohron
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For J.R. Hammond, 1992 was an opportune time to be blue collar.

The Dora High alumnus and former coal miner was listed on the ballot as “Working Man” Hammond in his bid to be a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in New York that summer.

Hammond ran as the only uncommitted delegate from Alabama’s 7th District. He won one of the state’s 67 spots at the convention when 21 percent of the voters in his area checked “uncommitted” during the Democratic primary.

According to state Democratic Party rules, the threshold for the awarding of a delegate was 20 percent.

“Thanks to Ross Perot for spending $20 million of his own money telling everybody to vote uncommitted,” Hammond said.

Hammond said his original intent for getting on the ballot was to impress his then-16-year-old daughter, Elesha.

However, he had a platform by the time that the Clinton campaign called all uncommitted delegates shortly before the convention to ask for their support.

“I said, ‘If I can be a voice for working people in the campaign, I’ll be glad to be a part of things,’” Hammond said.

For a while, Hammond believed that Clinton and his advisors wanted to hear what an average Joe from Alabama had to say.

During the opening night of the convention, he was one of 22 delegates chosen to walk on stage to represent the diversity of the Democratic Party.

True to his roots, Hammond made his national TV appearance wearing jeans, tennis shoes, a denim work shirt and a Crimson Tide cap that sported two “Yellow Dog Democrat” buttons.

Hammond’s 15 minutes of fame lasted for four days during the convention.

He hobnobbed with celebrities, political powerhouses and various reporters who were intrigued by his story.

The morning after the convention opened, “The New York Daily News” and other publications ran a photo of Hammond holding his cap over his heart and wiping tears from his eyes during Aretha Franklin’s performance of the national anthem.

That same day, Hammond was featured in separate articles in “The Birmingham News” and “The Tuscaloosa News.”

The Tuscaloosa piece, entitled “‘Working Man’ likes the taste of the Big Apple,” opened with Hammond emerging from a New York subway and singing the opening lines of “New York, New York” in the middle of Broadway.

Hammond’s most humorous antic during the convention, however, went unnoted by the press.

Rather than break his budget on an $8 hot dog at Madison Square Garden, Hammond talked his way into a suite for elected Democratic officials (and the free food that came with it) by claiming to be the mayor of Woodstock. In fact, the small Alabama community is unincorporated.

Shortly after Clinton made his acceptance speech on July 16, 1992, Hammond took the stage for a second time with the rest of Alabama’s delegation. As the festivities wound down to the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” Hammond made a beeline for the future president.

Hammond shook Clinton’s hand and assured him that he would do everything in his power to deliver Alabama’s nine electoral votes.

Clinton’s response was, “Well, I sure need them. Thanks.”

When he returned to Alabama, Hammond went to work campaigning for Clinton. By his estimates, he made at least a dozen appearances on local TV stations in the weeks following the convention.

However, by Election Night 1992, Hammond had realized that his services were no longer needed or wanted.

The final blow to his ego came when the state campaign leadership left out his name while publicly thanking all of those who had a part in the win during a party held that evening in Birmingham.

Hammond’s opinion of Clinton soured further over the new administrations “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy” for the military and what he refers to as “that health care fiasco with Hillary.”

“I got a Christmas card from the White House that first year, but I never got another one. I guess they heard I didn’t like them,” Hammond said.

Hammond now describes himself as “a militant ex-Democrat.”

In a 2010 article about the tea party movement, The Associated Press quoted Hammond as saying, “The only thing that unites millions of Americans is we hate the Democratic Party.”

However, Hammond still keeps a box of mementos from 1992, the year that he set out to prove that there is still a place for a working man in American politics.

“Everybody at these conventions are political hacks. I was refreshing. I didn’t know or owe anybody. I was just there because they couldn’t keep me out,” Hammond said.