Harlem Divided Over Presidential Race
By Robin Shulman
NEW YORK -- "Harlem is Obama Country" trumpets a sign in Sen. Barack Obama's Harlem headquarters. But just blocks away is solid evidence of a Clinton presence: the office former president Bill Clinton has maintained for almost seven years. And based on conversations outside that office, it seems that Harlem -- a legendary black neighborhood in the Clintons' home turf -- is actually contested country.
Passersby mention Obama's ability to inspire, his promise of change, and his potential to make history as the first black president, as well as Sen. Hillary Clinton's local experience, friendships, political favors and successes.
"I'm going to vote for Obama, I think we need a fresh voice," said Bernice Baker, 82, a retired administrative assistant. "But I like Hillary too."
"Obama wants to change the world, but what's he going to do for me?" asked Francis Gordon, 68, a retired secretary. "Hillary is our senator."
Meanwhile, Harlem's politicians have mostly lined up behind the Clintons. They are led by Representative Charles B. Rangel, the dean of the Harlem Democrats, who originally invited Bill Clinton to open an office in Harlem, and recently campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the South.
Rangel's rivals note that if she were to become president, he would have his strongest ally in the White House in more than three decades in office. Rangel did not return calls to comment for this story.
But Rangel's wife, Alma Rangel, on Friday declared her support for Obama.
"I believe Barack Obama has the ability to unify this country and the character to stand up for what's right instead of what's popular," she said in a statement released by the Obama campaign. "Senator Obama is the future, part of the new generation of leaders who can inspire us to transform our country."
And some people interviewed on 125th Street talked about a divide between the political elite, which favors Clinton, and regular people, many of whom have been excited by Obama.
"In my lifetime, I would like to see a black person do something I never seen before," said George Smalls, 52, a juvenile corrections officer. "What I can't understand is why all the black politicians in Harlem are going with Hillary."
"You don't abandon your friends in a time of challenge," said Rev. Calvin Butts, of the legendary Abyssinian Baptist Church, when asked in a telephone interview about his endorsement of Clinton, adding that she has been a strong senator, supportive of local projects.
"I have received some criticism from members of the community who believe that I should either have endorsed Obama or remained neutral," said Butts, who also acknowledged that he contributed financially to Obama's senate race in Illinois.
After their minister's endorsement of Clinton last month, members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church came to the local Obama headquarters to offer their support to that campaign, said State Senator Bill Perkins of Harlem, an Obama supporter.
Web Politics Editor
February 1, 2008; 6:49 PM ET
Save & Share: Previous: Huckabee Questions Romney's...Maturity
Next: House Republicans Contact FBI Over Financial Irregularities
Posted by: da12c | February 2, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Martinedwinandersen | February 2, 2008 1:11 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: mvkniat | February 2, 2008 12:06 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: dingo_girl2002 | February 1, 2008 11:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: gloriab944 | February 1, 2008 9:33 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: michelletjohnson | February 1, 2008 7:55 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Sirack | February 1, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: maq1 | February 1, 2008 6:51 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.