Clinton casts Sanders as a ‘single-issue’ candidate in Harlem

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Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Casting Bernie Sanders as a “single-issue” candidate and a Johnny-come-lately to African-American issues, Hillary Clinton on Tuesday told supporters in Harlem that, “You can’t start building relationships a few weeks before a vote.”

“I am absolutely committed to ensuring that no bank is too big to fail, and no executive too powerful to jail,” she said, to enthusiastic applause. “But Flint reminds us, my friends, there’s a lot more going on in our country that we should be concerned about."

Clinton spoke to supporters at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, home of the original manuscript of Richard Wright’s Native Son and some of Langston Hughes’ ashes.

Her speech came the same day Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, campaigned for Bernie Sanders in South Carolina, whose heavily black Democratic primary is less than two weeks away. It also came the same day that Rev. Al Sharpton continued to decline to endorse her, appearing to argue, like Mayor Bill de Blasio before him, that he needed more details first.

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“I think we are in the midst of a process, and that process has to be detailed policy and that process has to include collective gatherings like this morning,” Sharpton said after meeting with Clinton Tuesday morning.

Clinton's speech came during a busy day in New York City.

She met with civil rights leaders, including Sharpton, downtown. Then she appeared at the Harvard Club, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo hosted a high-dollar fundraiser for her. Tickets for that event ranged in price from $2,700 to $50,000, part of a late-winter fundraising dash in advance of Super Tuesday.

After the luncheon, she and Cuomo traveled to Harlem together, where Clinton delivered a speech designed to rally African-American support in advance of the upcoming primaries.

She said as president, she would work to reduce the use of punitive discipline at school, which she argued disproportionately affects children of color and serves as an entryway into the criminal justice system.

To that end, she said that as president, she would spend $2 billion putting “School Climate Support Teams” in high-suspension districts. The teams of social workers and other specialists would develop plans to reduce school suspensions. Should school districts or states fail to reform, Clinton would ask the Department of Education’s office of civil rights to intervene.

“This is a civil rights issue and we cannot ignore it any longer,” she said.

Clinton’s appearance in New York also represented a show of force by the New York Democratic establishment.

For the first time in recent memory, both Cuomo and de Blasio appeared together on the same stage (granted, Cuomo’s girlfriend, de Blasio’s wife, Rep. Charlie Rangel and Clinton stood between them).

During her speech, Clinton touched on some now-familiar subjects, like Flint, Michigan — where babies have been “drinking poisoned water” — and the mass incarceration of black men — an issue she raised in her very first campaign speech, also in New York City.

Clinton said that as president, she would direct “hundreds of billions of dollars in new investments to places like Harlem and rural South Carolina.”

She suggested the rhetoric surrounding President Obama’s expected nomination of someone to replace Justice Antonin Scalia smacked of “coded racial language.” “Some are even saying he doesn’t have the right to nominate anyone,” she said. “As if somehow he’s not the real president.”

And she said recent efforts to raise barriers to voting represent a “blast from the Jim Crow past.”

Before the speech, Patricia Redd Johnson, a former private school dean, said she’s “absolutely” supporting Clinton, in part because, “It’s about time it’s a woman.”

Kofi Boateng, who runs a Harlem social agency, wasn’t so sure.

“I want to hear the substance of the agenda for employment, for reducing the income inequality in the country, reducing the tendency towards war, because I have two sons in the army, so it’s a little bit personal,” he said. “Others may talk about strategic positions when it comes to making war, and others sacrifice real blood.”