BRONZEVILLE — Hillary Clinton began her campaign push in Illinois Wednesday a month before the state primary with an appearance at the historic Parkway Ballroom in Bronzeville.
Emphasizing that she is "not gonna make promises I can't keep," Clinton said, "I will work harder than anyone to make the changes that actually improve people's lives."
Suggesting her Democratic opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), is making promises he can't keep, she told supporters, "Together we will make progress for the people."
The Democratic presidential candidate held a relatively small and intimate rally, by presidential campaign standards, with an estimated attendance of 350 at the ballroom at 4455 S. King Drive.
She was introduced by Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland, the Naperville woman who died in police custody in Texas last year. Clinton made a point of saluting "mothers of the movement" who shared the stage with her, such as Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton, and Annette Nance-Holt, mother of Blair Holt, both teens slain in Chicago gun violence.
Clinton pledged to reform police practices and gun laws. She also made a push for equal pay for women.
"We've gotta break down the barriers of bigotry," Clinton said.
The former U.S. senator and secretary of state has increasingly turned her attention to equal rights issues and the African-American community as the national campaign moves to South Carolina with a primary later this week and to major industrial states, including Illinois, next month.
She repeated pledges made in New York City Tuesday that she'd spend $2 billion on education, largely to address African-American inequality, and she cited how median family income rose 17 percent under her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the '90s, but added that figure rose 33 percent among African-Americans.
Clinton also tackled other issues, slamming Republicans for "pure, naked hostility and opposition" and accusing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner of wanting to return the state to "robber barons." The governor has a "Republican agenda to turn back the clock," she said.
"It's really important to kick it off in neighborhoods that have been strong supporters and have great voter turnout," said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), a Clinton supporter and candidate for delegate. "It is definitely an honor to have her on the South Side."
Woodlawn activist Leon Finney, a Clinton supporter, said Wednesday the African-American community is key to building "a national movement" as the primary campaign moves into larger states.
"If we do that," he said, "I think we retain the White House."
Finney predicted the African-American vote would help Clinton sweep South Carolina, the Super Tuesday primaries, Wisconsin and her native state of Illinois.
By that time, he predicted, her campaign would be pointed toward the November general election, and her early struggles in Iowa and New Hampshire would be "swept away."
"There is no question, he or she who has the African-American vote in a presidential election has a huge leg up," Finney said. "The African-American vote will come out for her."
"She's been on the front line for us, and I'm proud to be on the front line for her," said U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Chicago). "We're going to elect the first woman president."
Clinton's campaign staffers said they weren't sure how often the candidate would return to Illinois over the next month before the March 15 primary, as her original home state figures to be safe for her, even though Sanders also has local ties, having attended the University of Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not attend Wednesday's rally.
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