Clinton Panders to Sharpton, Promises ‘My Door is Open’ to Black Americans


Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledged Wednesday that if elected she would eliminate lead as a major public health threat within five years and establish an environmental justice review panel that could recommend federal prosecution for some threats that disproportionately affect minorities.

“Let’s set that goal, and then let’s get everybody moving toward achieving it,” Clinton said of ridding lead as an environmental health threat in the United States. “All we need is the will,” Clinton told the annual conference of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network.

The former U.S. senator from New York addressed the civil rights organization here as she and rival Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont enter the closing days of their fierce competition for the New York Democratic primary next week. Sanders will speak to the conference on Thursday.

Clinton spoke days after she participated in a farcical skit with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio that has been criticized as racially insensitive. De Blasio had jokingly blamed his long delay in endorsing Clinton on “CP time.” The term is slang for “colored people time,” but Clinton, in the skit, translated it as “cautious politician time.”

De Blasio has said the exchange Saturday night was in jest and not intended to offend anyone. Clinton has said the joke was de Blasio’s. The criticism follows a confrontation last week between former president Bill Clinton and Black Lives Matter activists for which he later partly apologized.

Hillary Clinton did not mention any of that on Wednesday. She spent much of her address underscoring her long relationships with African American leaders and issues, while her campaign chairman, John Podesta, stressed the bedrock of support that Hillary and Bill Clinton have built with black voters.

“My door will always be open to you,” Clinton told the civil rights organization, adding that white Americans need to try to understand and “walk in your shoes” with black Americans. Democrats, she said, have a special duty.

“If we are going to ask African Americans to vote for us, we cannot take you or your vote for granted,” Clinton said. “We cannot just show up at election times.”

She did not mention Sanders by name but took an apparent swipe at his relatively new courtship of African American voters.

“We can’t start building relationships a few weeks before a vote,” Clinton said. “I have worked on these causes all my adult life. I am going to keep going at it no matter what.”

Clinton did not say in her speech how she would accomplish the lead eradication goal, or how she’d pay for it. Her campaign said Clinton would set up a “Presidential Commission on Childhood Lead Exposure” to develop a national plan to eliminate the risk of lead exposure from paint, pipes and soil within five years.

“Clinton will direct every federal agency to adopt the Commission’s recommendations, make sure our public water systems are following appropriate lead safety guidelines, and leverage federal, state, local, and philanthropic resources, including up to $5 billion in federal dollars, to replace lead paint, windows, and doors in homes, schools, and child care centers and remediate lead-contaminated soil,” a campaign statement said.

Clinton would establish the environmental justice task force on her first day in office, her campaign said. It would be tasked with finding and remedying the “next 50 Flints,” a reference to the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Mich. Clinton has made that crisis a centerpiece of her campaign this year. Sanders has also highlighted Flint prominently in his campaign.

The panel could “make recommendations on addressing cumulative environmental impacts and preventing other communities from facing similar burdens in the future, particularly in light of the additional challenges posed by climate change, including through stronger enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” the campaign said.

That is the provision of the 1964 law that bans discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin, and allows federal enforcement or prosecution.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Anne Gearan