A Brooklyn street party for Hillary

26th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Agence France-Presse is running a series of reporters' blogs taking readers behind the scenes of the 2016 US election for a look at the events and attitudes shaping the White House race.

The latest contribution comes from New York, where Hillary Clinton's decisive victory this month re-set the White House race, halting a multi-state winning streak by her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.

AFP's Jennie Matthew caught up with Clinton as she campaigned on home turf ahead of the vote, and got a glimpse of a smiling, selfie-snapping candidate with her guard down, and a spring in her step.

- Brooklyn sunshine -

Hillary Clinton doesn't often look genuinely happy in public but she did standing on the back of a truck in Brooklyn. She had just lost a string of state primaries to Bernie Sanders, but New York was home, she was ahead in the polls and the crowd loved her.

It was Sunday afternoon, the sun was shining and her supporters were hosting a block party in Bedford Stuyvesant, the African American heartland of Brooklyn fast gentrifying as affluent families, many of them white, flock to snap up brownstone houses.

It was relaxed and bursting with zeal. There was a bouncy castle and face painting for children, and free popcorn handed out with a smile. Music thumped out of loudspeakers as a DJ spun some dance tracks, a welcome change from the official campaign soundtrack of Katy Perry and Rachel Platten. A middle-aged white woman danced with her child in the road, swaying her hips to the music.

Warm-up speakers treated us to rousing tales of overcoming the odds, fueled by that American combination of faith and perseverance, and why we should all be voting for Clinton to make America more fair, more liveable and safer.

As they intoned into the microphone, cries of "she's here, she's here" rippled through the relatively small gathering, many of them women, pressed up against the front perimeter.

Looking resplendent in a green coat, make-up and hair fresh despite jetting in from Los Angeles that morning and driving in from an earlier campaign stop, Clinton was mobbed as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced the woman he used to work for -- but whose run for the presidency he dragged his feet in endorsing.

Then she gamely walked up the steps onto the back of the truck, gave de Blasio a quick kiss, bear hugged some of the others and launched into a pat version of her stump speech. At the end she beamed in the sunshine, sensing the victory that eventually came that Tuesday, silencing some critics and leaving Sanders to fend off calls to quit.

- 10 minutes in a cake shop -

Not only did she seem happy, it was the most relaxed Clinton event I've been to.

At a rally in New Hampshire in February, where Clinton ultimately suffered a heavy loss to Sanders, I watched her deliver pretty much the same pitch. It was a classic Clinton performance -- articulate but rather stiff.

As for atmosphere, the small crowd left lots of empty space in the hall. The most vocal supporters were a crew of retirees bussed or flown up from Arkansas.

Bill was there too, but there was no chance of getting close to the Clintons. Text reporters were seated at the back of the room, behind a bank of cameras, having braved a queue that wrapped around the building in freezing temperatures.

Another Clinton event I covered in Harlem began with a long wait on a bus -- all to drive round the corner to spend 10 minutes watching her interact with people in a cake shop.

In Brooklyn, I sauntered in as a member of public. As did everyone else. There were no scanner machines, no questions and no ID check. Sure, the ever present secret service was there, but remarkably unobtrusive.

A pre-war apartment building directly overlooked the truck. Had the building been swept, I asked myself as a bemused resident peeled back the curtain to look down below.

- Who's next for a selfie? -

When she finished, applause rang out and the selfie circus got underway.

Clinton made her way along the front perimeter to pose for photographs. I once overhead a member of her team say selfies were a gift for Clinton. Less naturally exuberant than her husband, they filled a gap that would once have been awkward without easily flowing chit chat.

Down the road Bernie Sanders had pulled in a crowd that his campaign numbered at 28,000. Without a doubt Clinton has been unable to mobilize the fervor and passion that the white-haired Vermont senator with a gruff exterior has whipped up among young people with his calls for free college, healthcare as a right and an end to billionaires' influence on American politics.

But Clinton's fan base is loyal and committed and more importantly they turned out to vote in New York, where Democrats had to register by last October -- months before Sanders's campaign took off -- and independent voters were barred from the primary.

It's also often overlooked by a media glued to the controversies of Donald Trump, the implosion of the Republican party and the revolution espoused by Sanders, that Clinton looks more assured than ever of making history as the first woman commander-in-chief, shattering the ultimate glass ceiling.

"It was so great," enthused Abbie Scott, an African American mother who waited in the hot sun with a bored six-year-old to shake hands with Clinton. Aged 25 and looking for a job, there was no doubt in her mind that Clinton should be president.

Clinton is a fighter, she said, and proof that anyone could make it if they put their head down. "I think she's a wonderful woman."


© 2016 AFP

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