Bernie Sanders revved up what he said was a record crowd of nearly 29,000 in his boyhood borough, insisting that Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton cannot "tell the American people with a straight face that you’re going to stand up to big-money interests" when those same interests are giving millions of dollars to her supportive super PAC.
The Vermont senator also said during the rally at Prospect Park that the former secretary of state must have given a "pretty damned good speech" to the bank Goldman Sachs since it paid her more than $200,000 as a speaking fee.
Sanders has seized on the months-old arguments with increasing agitation in recent weeks. Sunday’s speeches came 48 hours before the New York primary — and on the heels of one of Clinton’s most high-profile campaign fundraisers yet.
Both Sanders and Clinton claim ties to New York. Brooklyn-native Sanders could use a win Tuesday to jar the front-runner, while Clinton wants to halt his momentum with a victory in the state that sent her to the U.S. Senate. Clinton has led the polls, and in a tacit acknowledgment that the election is likely to be tough, Sanders plans to be in soon-to-vote Pennsylvania on Tuesday night.
Clinton and Sanders aggressively campaigned across the city Sunday. Both courted black voters; Clinton needs a large African-American turnout to win Tuesday and Sanders would like to erode some of that support.
Clinton brought mothers who lost children to gun violence to a church in Mount Vernon, where she stressed her record on gun control. Clinton then hit get-out-the-vote events in Brooklyn and predominantly Hispanic Washington Heights.
She concluded her day on the Republican stronghold of Staten Island, where she touted bipartisanship and rallied a crowd of 500, questioning whether Sanders’ role in the effort to revamp health care in the 1990s.
"Well, where were you?" Clinton asked. "I mean, really."
Sanders began his day at a church in Harlem, where he emphasized that the Black Lives Matter movement had shown him how black communities feel targeted by the police. He later greeted well-wishers at a park shadowed by the Brooklyn Bridge and toured public housing in Brooklyn.
Over the weekend, both candidates briefly left New York.
Sanders paid a visit to the Vatican. And Clinton made her way to California, where actor George Clooney hosted two weekend fundraisers for her. Donations for attendees at an event in San Francisco topped out at $353,000 per couple, which even Clooney said is an "obscene amount of money."
The fundraiser even drew pro-Sanders demonstrators, Clooney recounted in an interview airing Sunday on NBC’s "Meet the Press." When he went to talk with them, he said, they called him a corporate shill.
"That’s one of the funnier things you could say about me," the Oscar-winner said, though he conceded that some of the protesters had a valid point regarding a different matter.
"Their T-shirts said, you know, ‘You sucked as Batman,"’ said Clooney, the star of 1997’s "Batman & Robin," one of the least memorable films in the superhero franchise. "And I was like, ‘Well, you kind of got me on that one."’
Asked on CNN Sunday whether Clooney was siding with the wrong candidate, Sanders replied, "I think he is." But he complimented Clooney for talking about money in politics, which has been the cornerstone of his campaign.
Sanders then used Clooney in his own fundraiser.
In an email seeking $2.70 contributions, Sanders highlighted the size of Clinton’s fundraising checks and the actor’s comments about them. Sanders has been able to finance his underdog bid through low-dollar online fundraisers. In each of the past three months he has out-raised Clinton.
Clooney said he likes many of Sanders’ ideas and would gladly raise money for him if he became the Democratic nominee. But the actor said he is supporting Clinton because of his admiration of her work as secretary of state, and he praised her for her efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis ahead of South Sudan’s independence.
Clooney faulted Clinton for not better explaining where the money she is raising goes. Most of it, he said, would end up being spent on down-ballot races including those for the Senate, which will confirm the next president’s picks for the Supreme Court.
If the right justice is confirmed for the spot now open on the court, Clooney said, political campaigns could "get this obscene, ridiculous amount of money out so I never have to do a fundraiser again."
Donald Trump, meanwhile, took his campaign Sunday to Staten Island.
Staten Island, New York’s self-proclaimed "forgotten borough," is a hidden bastion of Republicanism in one of the nation’s most liberal cities, separated from the rest of the city both geographically and politically. A sprawling suburb of low-rise buildings that resembles the towns of neighboring New Jersey, Staten Island has long been isolated from the bustling metropolis.
It takes $16 in tolls to cross the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Brooklyn to Staten Island. Many tourists who ride the iconic free Staten Island ferry never depart the terminal and simply wait for the next boat back to Manhattan. And for decades, the island’s most recognizable landmark was a dump that took most of the city’s garbage and was once the largest landfill in the world.
The island is frequently the butt of jokes by other New Yorkers, and its voters even considered secession in 1993.
And unlike the deep blue politics that dominate the rest of New York, Staten Island’s political power structure is controlled by Republicans; while Mayor Bill de Blasio, a liberal Democrat, captured 73 percent of the citywide vote in 2013, he lost Staten Island to a poorly funded, longshot Republican challenger.
And when Trump, just two days before the crucial New York primary, campaigned here on Sunday, the warm reception he received stood in stark contrast to the anger of thousands of protesters who greeted him in Manhattan days earlier.
"Staten Island is a great place," said Trump, who does not currently own property on Staten Island but recalled the four summers decades ago he worked in a development here for his father’s business. "We have safety on Staten Island. We have great police, great people on Staten Island and I know it so well."
Trump on Sunday first received the endorsement of the New York Veteran Police Association, an obscure police organization, and then spoke to the county GOP’s annual Lincoln Day brunch, an event that normally draws 350 people and this year packed in more than 1,000.
"Mr. Trump has a wide following, we could have sold twice as many tickets as we did," said John Antoniello, chairman of the GOP group. "These are his people. Staten Island is a real base of support for him."
The chanting, cheering crowd stood for Trump’s entire 25-minute speech and many in the audience said they felt grateful the celebrity businessman was spending time in an area "left behind" by the Democrats who run City Hall and the statehouse.
"People will see that we’re really a slice of Middle America buried in a big city. We love our country, and we don’t see things like they do," said Claire Chesnoff, a real estate agent. "We’re our own little town. We are all working people who have earned what we have."
Hillary Clinton also campaigned on Staten Island on Sunday, so the national spotlight shined on the borough — home to just 470,000 of New York City’s 8.5 million residents — for the first time since Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, was placed in a fatal chokehold by a white police officer in 2014, setting off waves of protests.
Clinton struck a message of bipartisanship at a rally Sunday evening, talking about working with Republicans during her time in the Senate. She praised President George W. Bush for providing funding to rebuild New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and said: "I have no time for people who are partisan for the sake of being partisan."
Staten Island is home to scores of police officers and firefighters and lost nearly 300 people on September 11, 2001.
Trump — who eschewed his trademark rallies in New York City, only appearing at a pair of local GOP events — was born in Queens yet lives in a Midtown skyscraper and has a glitzy image synonymous with Manhattan’s glamour. But many of his Staten Island supporters said they felt the celebrity businessman could relate to their quiet borough.
"Mr. Trump says what he means and means what he says. He’s not a phony," said Mildred Amatrudo, an administrative assistant. "We have different values that the rest of the city. They don’t understand us or care about us. They’re a different city."
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