NEW YORK — A few hours before the presidential candidates squared off, designers and other fashion types poured into the Milk Gallery Wednesday night to lend an ear to New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who tried to fire up the troops for the campaign and raise money for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

The likes of Zac Posen, Kenneth Cole and Alvin Valley, who plunked down $25,000 or more, were treated to a private meet-and-greet with the former first lady. Bartenders paid homage to her by wearing T-shirts imprinted with images of her face.

Before turning over the podium to Clinton — and some wondered if, in fact, he would — Cole rattled off statistics like a seasoned politician. He reminded the crowd that 100 million Americans failed to vote in the 2000 presidential election and that more 18- to 25-year-old Americans voted for “American Idol” than in the last election.

Clinton said, “I’d like to underscore for creative people and artists the last four years have been a challenge. If we don’t get a new president, it will be a burden.”

Clinton said President Bush’s “incompetence” has jeopardized the security of the country and that he “preys on people’s fears and insecurities.” Sen. John Kerry, as evidenced by the debates, is a senator who thinks some of the problems faced by the country are complicated, Clinton said.

Beyond just turning out to vote, she rallied the crowd to go to some of the battleground states to knock on doors and encourage others to vote or to provide resources for those efforts.

“We want this election to be done in an honorable way,” Clinton said. “We want to make sure everyone turns out to vote and their votes count.”

Posen said he rounded up a handful of friends to attend the fund-raiser for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

“It’s important that the core voters are young voters,” Posen said. “New Yorkers complain enough. They should support whatever they believe in.”

On Thursday night, PlayStation 2 and Russell Simmons hosted “Race to the Polls,” a four-hour bonanza at Hammerstein Ballroom. Tim Robbins, Andrew Cuomo and Simmons planned to make their political pitches in between musical performances.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The night was scheduled to kick off with a gaming tournament, hosted by Funkmaster Flex and Doug E. Fresh, and hip-hop legends such as Q-Tip and Rev. Run, from Run DMC, were expected to battle each other. Mary J. Blige, Disturbing the Peace featuring Ludacris, Public Enemy, Mase and Wyclef Jean planned to take it from there with individual performances.

— Rosemary Feitelberg and Lauren DeCarlo