She and the largely African-American politicians who spoke before her ignored her primary challenge from the strongest African-American candidate to seek the presidency, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who told The New York Times in an interview posted online today that he plans to step up his criticism of Clinton.
New York’s political elite, though, focused on more practical concerns — like tickets to her inauguration.
“If you go over two minutes, you will not have a seat at the inauguration,” the events emcee, New York Lt. Gov. David Paterson, warned the parade of speakers.
Rep. Joseph Crowley, a Democrat who represents the Bronx- and Queens-based 7th Congressional District, warned his colleagues against referring to the candidate as “Hillary,” as she is widely known.
“When she becomes president, what are you all going to do?” he asked. “You can’t go around calling the president of the United States by her first name. ... So I am very dignified. I call her ‘Sen. Clinton.’”
Bill Clinton, who introduced his wife and wore a blue sport jacket and red tie for the Saturday morning event, made the case for her as the strongest candidate against a Republican.
He focused particularly on shoring up her military credentials during a week in which Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona released two television ads linking her to the Woodstock music festival, the ’60s left — and, by implication, the anti-Vietnam War movement.
“She’s the only member of the [Senate] Armed Services Committee running,” the former president said, referring to the Democratic field.
“We need somebody who can win, and she runs first in most polls,” he said. “She can win, and it doesn’t hurt that she can be the first woman president of the United States.”
Clinton herself delivered the same speech she gives in Iowa, promising the audience of about 1,500 that they would not be “invisible” to her. She was interrupted repeatedly by applause, but drew the loudest cheers and whistles simply for saying that her election would mean getting “George Bush and Dick Cheney out of the White House.”
However, immediately after her boisterous embrace in Harlem, Clinton was wrenched back into primary politics in Iowa when she appeared via teleconference at a candidates’ forum at Iowa State University in Ames sponsored by Generation Engage and the League of Rural Voters.
She connected the two places by pledging to extend empowerment zones to rural America.
“I’m here in Harlem where we had an empowerment zone when my husband was president, and you wouldn’t believe the difference — so many more businesses,” Clinton said via teleconference. “As president, I'll bring empowerment zones to rural as well as urban communities.”
At the Harlem event, Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the dean of New York’s congressional delegation, introduced Bill Clinton after being lauded in his own right.
Rangel has proven a key political ally to the Clinton campaign, a bulwark of their effort to shore up support in the black political establishment in New York and across the country, where old allegiances have often trumped even the possibility of the first black president.
But Rangel has also been an occasionally difficult ally, with a combative stance toward former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (a “goddamn cheating husband,” as he told The New York Observer last week) and a position as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee that makes him a lightning rod for Republican attacks on Democratic tax policy.
The Clintons didn’t tlk about taxes today, but Rangel alluded to the current heated debate over the alternative minimum tax, which could affect many middle-class people unless Congress approves a stopgap measure to prevent its expansion. Rangel has proposed raising some taxes on the wealthy to offset the costs.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, e-mailed reporters calling Rangel’s plan “the Rangel/Clinton” plan, though Sen. Clinton has not embraced it.
The Clinton campaign had initially planned a large outdoor rally; Harlem political sources said it was canceled because of rain. The spirit of the event, though, was one of confidence and hyperbole.
“It may be raining outside,” said New York State Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem. “But when Hillary gets elected president, the sun will come out.”
Ben Adler contributed to this report.