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WASHINGTON — Rep. Gregory Meeks is one of those New York politicians who gives Hillary Clinton an edge in the New York primary coming up next Tuesday.
While Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has fired up many supporters among New York’s young people and progressive groups, Meeks (D-St. Albans), Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and both New York senators are part of a statewide Democratic establishment that will sway many votes.
A staunch ally of both Clintons since the 1990s, Meeks is now defending Clinton from criticism on race leveled by Sanders and supporters as the Democratic presidential campaign heats up in the days before next Tuesday’s vote.
Meeks, who represents a slice of Nassau County, participated in a phone call with reporters arranged by the Clinton campaign Thursday to rebut attacks.
Meeks dismissed criticism of Clinton over the 1994 crime bill when her husband, Bill, was president as “not appropriate” because Sanders, then in the House, voted for it.
And he forgave Clinton for calling street gang members “super predators” in 1996, though he said she could have used “a better set of words.”
“At the time that things were taking place, [the Clintons] were concerned about the black lives that were being lost. They were concerned about the crime and the deaths in the African-American community, and they were upset by those committing the crimes,” Meeks said.
The black vote will be critical for Clinton next Tuesday, and since Meeks, as chair of the political arm of the Congress Black Caucus, engineered its endorsement of her in February, he has been on the road and on the air campaigning for her.
Meeks was particularly tight with both Bill and Hillary Clinton after he first came to Congress in 1998. As president, Bill Clinton helped Meeks raise funds and took him to Africa on a presidential trip.
In turn, Meeks backed Clinton when he was impeached and set up a group of black elected leaders to register black voters to support Hillary Clinton’s successful 2000 New York senate campaign.
Meeks has had his own troubles with ethics investigations over the years, but he has never faced a close race in his district.