Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told boisterous crowds in his native Brooklyn Friday that a win in New York’s Democratic primary on April 19 — once inconceivable — was now within his grasp, and that the victory “would help us make it to the White House.”
Sanders, appearing at the first of separate rallies in different sections of the borough where he was raised, significantly dialed back criticism of his primary opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The Vermont senator had been under fire for suggesting earlier this week that Clinton was unqualified to be president because of her vote as senator authorizing the Iraq War.
On Friday, Sanders only referred to Clinton by name once in his roughly 16-minute speech from Flatbush.
Before several thousand people on a closed-off street, Sanders noted he had won 6 of the last 7 primaries and caucuses after being “60 points behind where Secretary Clinton was” nationally when he declared his candidacy last year.
“We can win this primary,” Sanders said of New York, where Clinton lives and was a U.S. senator. “And if we win here, we’re gonna win other states: New York will help us make it to the White House.”
Sanders hewed closely to the populist rallying cries — against corporate interests in politics and in support of an increased minimum wage, free college tuition and universal health care — that have earned him a passionate following from younger Democrats.
“I grew up in this community. I remember it very well,” Sanders said in Flatbush, where he was greeted by the crowd of several thousand with chants of “Welcome home!”
“And I know that from this community, and from all over this state and all over this country, there is a movement developing that says it’s too late for establishment politics and establishment economics,” Sanders said.
In Flatbush, Sanders was joined by actor and environmental activist Mark Ruffalo, who in his brief introduction dismissed critics who said Sanders’ policies were unrealistic.
Clinton, while agreeing with Sanders on issues such as raising the federal minimum wage and emphasizing renewable energy, has criticized his health care and tuition plans as expensive and likely unachievable.
“What he moves inside of us is the idealism that we all grew up with,” Ruffalo said. “Incrementalism is what’s making the whole corporate world take over our political system.”
At the Greenpoint rally, at a park overlooking the East River, Sanders raised several additional topics, including a pledge to reform federal drug laws that harshly punish marijuana possession and railing against new voter identification laws in many Republican-led states.
“We are going to take on all these Republican governors who are suppressing the vote and are too cowardly to run in open and free and Democratic elections,” Sanders said.
Sanders was introduced by actress Susan Sarandon, who praised his courage in voting against the Iraq war and his rejection of Super PACs. “This is a man whose consistent moral compass has always voted . . . the way we care about,” Sarandon said.
Brooklyn, where Clinton headquartered her campaign, has become a main battleground in the state’s April 19 primary fight. Nearly a third of New York City’s registered Democrats reside in the borough, and it will be the site of a debate between Sanders and Clinton on Thursday.