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Hillary Clinton Pursues Black Votes With Harlem Speech

By Jeff Mays | February 17, 2016 10:31am
 Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on February 16, 2016.
Democratic presidential candidate and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a speech at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on February 16, 2016.
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HARLEM — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton continued her push to woo black voters Tuesday, laying out an agenda to address racial inequality in Harlem hours after meeting with the Rev. Al Sharpton and the heads of several other civil rights organizations in the financial district.

Clinton, speaking in Harlem, spoke of her plan to spend $20 billion to provide jobs for young African-Americans, to have the Department of Education investigate unfair treatment of black students, set up a program to allow blacks to save for home ownership, and to direct the Department of Justice to investigate police departments accused of racial bias.

"We Democrats have a special obligation. If we're serious about our commitment to the poor and those who need help, including African-Americans, if we continue to ask black people to vote for us, we cannot minimize the realities of the lives they lead or take their concerns for granted," Clinton said to thunderous applause at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

"We can't just show up at election time and say the right things and think that's enough. We can't start building relationships a few weeks before a vote," Clinton added in an obvious swipe at fellow Democratic candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Both Clinton and Sanders are strongly vying for the African-American vote ahead of a string of primaries in southern states, starting on Feb. 27 in South Carolina and followed by the Super Tuesday states of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, among others.

Sanders had breakfast with Sharpton at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem last week as part of his effort to win black voters.

Sharpton, speaking after a roundtable discussion with Clinton, described the meeting as "candid."

"We cannot allow the marginalization of people of color in this country with the first black family leaving the White House in American history," Sharpton said. He has yet to make an endorsement in the race.

In Harlem, in front of an overwhelmingly supportive crowd filled with several elected officials including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Rep. Charles Rangel, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Clinton touched on just about every issue of importance to the African-American community as defined by civil rights groups.

Clinton spoke about reforming the criminal justice system, economic equality, differences in how blacks are treated by police, health disparities and voter suppression efforts.

"For many white Americans, it's tempting to believe bigotry is largely behind us," Clinton said, later adding, "We have to begin by facing up to the problem of systemic racism."

The crowd cheered often, even chanting her name when Clinton's voice began to fail and she took a break to grab a throat lozenge and drink water.

Afterward, campaign surrogates Cuomo, de Blasio and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Clinton has the support of African-Americans because of the plans and proposals she has laid out.

"Hillary Clinton has a long, serious abiding relationship with the African-American community. She doesn't have to introduce herself to the African-American community. We know who she is and we respect the work that she has done and her husband has done," Holder said.

De Blasio, another white politician who relies heavily on the votes of African-Americans and Latinos, called Clinton's speech "one of the bluntest, truest speeches I've ever heard on the reality of race and economics in America."

He added: "When she walks in the door as president she will walk in with the most progressive vision of race and economics of any president we've ever had."