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Bernie Sanders Appeals to Black Voters at Al Sharpton's Convention

By Jeff Mays | April 14, 2016 4:56pm
 Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at a rally in Washington Square Park Wednesday ahead of the April 19 New York primary election.
Bernie Sanders addresses supporters at a rally in Washington Square Park Wednesday ahead of the April 19 New York primary election.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

MIDTOWN — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Thursday he's the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump in the general election while focusing on the issues that are important to African-Americans.

Sanders, speaking at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network convention one day after rival candidate Hillary Clinton addressed the crowd and hours before a planned debate between the two in Brooklyn, bounced from health care to voter suppression, jobs and education to prove his point.

"In many ways, the foundation of American Democracy today are being undermined by disastrous campaign finance laws," Sanders said, "and by voter suppression by Republican governors all over this country."

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr. on the issues of financial equity and race, Sanders said: "What does it matter if you desegregate a lunch counter but you don't have the money to buy a damn hamburger."

Sanders said Clinton is the candidate of "establishment politics" who is beholden to Wall Street. He said he would make public colleges free, create a massive federal jobs program to rebuild the country's infrastructure and provide a single payer health care system.

"We need a massive federal jobs program to put our people back to work," Sanders said. "The best way to do that is to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure...when you rebuild your infrastructure you make America, stronger, safer."

Both Sanders and Clinton are strongly vying for the African-American vote ahead of the April 19 New York primary. The pair will debate Thursday night in Brooklyn.

On Wednesday, Clinton spoke about "systematic racism" and said that whites need to do a better job of listening to blacks when they talk about inequity.

"We need to try as best we can to walk in your shoes," Clinton said.

And the black vote shouldn't be taken for granted, she said in a direct swipe at Sanders.

"When someone asks for your vote they should tell you what they're going to do, not what they hope to do," Clinton said Wednesday as she unveiled plans to end the threat of lead poisoning in five years and to hire an attorney general in the mold of President Obama's two choices for the position.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that Clinton leads Sanders 65 to 28 percent among black voters. Clinton's lead is slimmer among likely Democrat voters by 53 percent to 40 percent.

"Black votes matter for Secretary Hillary Clinton in the New York Democratic Primary," Quinnipiac University Poll Assistant Director Maurice Carroll said in a statement.

"She leads Sen. Bernie Sanders in many New York demographic groups except the young folks and very liberal voters, but it's a huge lead among black voters that gives her a comfortable double-digit margin."

At the National Action Network Thursday, Sanders seemed to get a much warmer reception than Clinton did the day before. Whereas there was tepid applause for Clinton early in her speech, Sanders received a standing ovation when he entered the stage.

Clinton did receive a standing ovation at the end of her speech when Sharpton referred to her as Rev. Hillary Clinton. Afterward, Sharpton said Clinton's speech was as detailed as he had seen.

"She was more specific today than I've heard her on black issues," Sharpton said citing Clinton's environmental justice remarks.

On Thursday, Sanders' speech was peppered with cries of "preach" and "tell it" as he spoke about how he participated in the March on Washington and supported Jesse Jackson for president in almost all white Vermont in 1988.

"It wasn't a popular thing to do," said Sanders.

Sharpton said Sanders had "changed the conversation in this election" with the issues he was raising.

Sharpton said he will make an endorsement but did not say when. Both candidates have challenges, Sharpton said.

"Her challenge is going to be young voters and energizing them. I think his challenge is going to be black voters. Everywhere all over the country he has not been able to get anywhere near 50 percent of black voters," Sharpton said.