Empire State-ment: Clinton Trounces Sanders in Crucial NY Primary | Politics | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Politics

Bernie Sanders

Empire State-ment: Clinton Trounces Sanders in Crucial NY Primary


Published April 20, 2016 at 10:08 a.m.
Updated April 26, 2016 at 8:40 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at a campaign rally Monday in Queens - AP PHOTO/MARY ALTAFFER
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking at a campaign rally Monday in Queens

Brooklyn-born Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suffered a crushing defeat Tuesday in the Empire State's make-or-break presidential primary, falling to rival Democrat Hillary Clinton 58 to 42 percent.

After two weeks of hand-to-hand combat in New York's unforgiving media market, the senator from Vermont found himself even further behind Clinton in the race for delegates, with a dwindling number of states left to vote. His recent winning streak, from Idaho to Hawaii to Wisconsin, was over — for now.

Sanders departed New York on Election Day for a rally at Pennsylvania State University and then, after the polls closed, he ditched his traveling press corps for an unscheduled flight to Vermont. Arriving in South Burlington just after 10 p.m., he explained his last-minute homecoming to about 10 Vermont reporters gathered in the cold outside Heritage Aviation.

"I have not been here for a number of weeks, and I miss Vermont, and we need to get recharged and take a day off," he said with his wife, Jane, standing behind him.

Despite the tough loss, Sanders said he was focused on the states ahead.

"Next week, we will be competing in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland and Delaware, and we look forward to winning a number of those states," he said. "We believe we have the momentum, and we believe we have a path toward victory."

Clinton didn't see it that way. Celebrating her victory in a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan, she said, "The race for the Democratic nomination is in the homestretch, and victory is in sight."

Even as she relished her win in a state that twice elected her to the Senate, Clinton extended an olive branch to her opponent's passionate voters, who she would need in a general election fight.

"To all the people that supported Sen. Sanders, I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us."

New York exit polls showed Clinton drawing broad support from women, African Americans, Hispanics and those 40 and over. Sanders, as usual, appeared to perform better among men, whites and those 39 and younger.

Support for the senator may have been muted by the state's restrictive rules, which barred some 3 million registered independents from taking part in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. Television cameras caught one such voter, 21-year-old Mike Cantalupo, approaching Sanders Tuesday morning as the candidate strolled through Times Square with his entourage.

"It shouldn't be this hard to vote," Cantalupo told Sanders.

"No, it should not be," the senator responded, adding that millions "have lost their right to vote" in New York. "That's wrong."

Later that night in South Burlington, Sanders decried the long lines, purged voter lists and "chaos at the polling places" that appeared to plague New York's election.

"While I congratulate Secretary Clinton, I must say that I am really concerned about the conduct of the voting process in New York State and I hope that the process will change in the future," he said, citing similar concerns raised by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

"So, we lost tonight," Sanders concluded. "There are five primaries next week. We think we're going to do well. And we have a path toward victory which we're going to fight to maintain."

Seemingly dismissive of the long odds against his nomination — and unresponsive to the mounting pleas for party unity — Sanders came at Clinton again and again in the days leading up to the decisive and divisive New York primary. Campaigning in Queens and Brooklyn, he cataloged about a dozen differences between his positions and Clinton's, styling himself as more progressive on every one of them.

Both the assets and deficits of Sanders' campaign were on floodlit display at a rally on Monday night as the primary roared toward its conclusion.

A contingent of red-shirted Verizon strikers cheered the socialist senator in a park on the edge of Queens, highlighting his appeal to the white working class. Sanders' strength with such workers has been key to his success in Vermont elections for the past 35 years. Blue-collar wage earners also helped power him to an upset victory in Michigan's primary last month.

"There has never been a presidential candidate so willing to stand up to corporate power as Bernie Sanders," Bob Master, political director of the striking Communications Workers of America union, told the Queens crowd.

Sanders himself then described Verizon as "just a poster child for what corporate America is doing to working families today." Noting that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam makes more than $18 million a year, Sanders demanded that the telecom boss "negotiate a fair contract" with the union.

And as a warning aimed at executive suites atop the glittering towers across Manhattan's East River, Sanders shouted, "I say to corporate America: Get nervous if Bernie Sanders is elected president."

Brooklyn-based band TV on the Radio revved up the rally prior to actor Danny Glover's introduction of Sanders as a leader who knew "how to change the world, change our lives."

The politician from one of the most monochromatic states in the union has sought, through celebrity endorsements and accounts of his civil rights activism, to whittle away at Clinton's black and brown base. Polls suggest younger African Americans may be feeling the Bern, but the Clintons — campaign surrogate Bill, as well as candidate Hillary — clearly retain the loyalty of most minority voters. Billary worked in New York to keep that core intact by visiting black churches and repeatedly drawing a contrast between Clinton's and Sanders' records on efforts to curb urban gun violence.

Sanders on Sunday nudged a toe onto that terrain. He told a mostly white crowd in Brooklyn's Prospect Park that he had hours earlier visited a public housing project in one of the borough's least gentrified neighborhoods. Sanders lamented the lack of opportunities for young African Americans and proclaimed, "It's our job to give kids jobs, not guns."

But he didn't say how he'd get that job done.

The Sanders-Clinton face-off grew increasingly rancorous as they jostled for New York's mother lode of 291 convention delegates.

Clinton attacked Sanders on abortion rights less than 24 hours before the polls opened, charging that the impeccably pro-choice senator had characterized reproductive freedom as a "distraction" from "real issues." The female frontrunner was angling to ensure she'd get a majority of women's votes in New York.

But Sanders ceded no ground to Clinton on women's rights. He pointed out at rallies in Brooklyn and Queens that women in the U.S. earn an average of 79 cents for men's $1, and he thundered on both occasions, "They want the whole damn dollar!"

On primary eve, Sanders amped up his claim that Clinton is a pawn of big-money interests. He accused her of "serious apparent violations of campaign finance laws" by paying her campaign aides with funds raised by a committee jointly controlled by the Clinton camp and the Democratic National Committee. And at the rally on Monday night, Sanders hammered his opponent for taking donations from Wall Street, observing that politicians usually refrain from biting the hands that feed them.

Sanders' New York audiences loved his critiques. But New York voters? Not so much.