By Madina Toure
At an event examining how the two Democratic presidential candidates courted the black vote, state Sen. James Sanders (D-South Ozone Park) said U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had the “best platform” but that there were some steps he could have taken to win the black vote in the New York city primary.
Speaking before roughly 40 community leaders, activists and residents at the Black Spectrum Theatre in Jamaica Saturday, Sanders, a Bernie delegate, said his platform “was the best platform that we may see in my lifetime.” He credited Bernie with embracing the Black Lives Matter movement, even naming black activist and BLM supporter Symone Sanders, chairwoman of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice’s national youth committee, as his national press secretary.
Bernie’s biggest misstep was going to the Vatican four days before the primary, Sanders said, rather than coming to southeast Queens, where Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and the former U.S. senator from New York, captured more than 75 percent of the vote.
“It was foolish not to come here. We have seen that where he shows up, the vote increases,” Sanders said. “People did not know him. He got 25 percent down here without showing. He might have been able to get 50 percent if he had shown and really did work down here.”
Other negative issues, Sanders said, were his focus on solving the class problem as a way to combat racism rather than tackling the race problem first and the fact that he is “an older guy.” The SE Queens lawmaker pointed out that progressives were interested in U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is 66 years old but still younger than Bernie, who is 74..
He also said people should not idealize either of the candidates, saying the black community should consider its own interests.
Sanders also said Clinton’s decision to include the mother of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman found hanged in a Texas jail cell in July 2015, in her campaign was not pandering, which is “to make small of something.” Speaking to issues affecting the black community does not come naturally for her, he said.
“Don’t make your strength a weakness. Clinton was right. She was smart in it,” he said about her willingness to promote black issues.
The lawmaker said the black community faces a problem because “we are not mature politically yet” and should be talking about the black agenda we plan to present to who he hopes will be the future President Clinton.
On the issue of the 126,000 Democratic voters dropped from the rolls in Brooklyn in the April 19 primary, Sanders said if it was across the board for both candidates, Hillary may have lost people, too, but that the story changes if it was restricted to Bernie supporters.
He also noted that City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who vowed to audit the Board of Elections over the missing voters, is a Hillary delegate so an outside individual should investigate the matter.
“I’m sure he can do a fantastic job, but to avoid any partisanship, you need somebody outside looking at that matter because it may not change the result, but then again it may,” he said. “We need more information and we need an investigation.”
But he stressed that ultimately the best way to move forward is for people to work together.
“I accept the verdict of the people,” he said. “The people chose. We who say we are in the struggle have to go back to our people and help raise the consciousness.”
The senator also fielded questions from attendees on issues such as what a black agenda would entail and who would be setting it and the possibility of incorporating classes that touch on voting and how government works into the school curriculum.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour