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Presidential campaigns battle for votes in Mass.

Sanders makes swing through Boston, Amherst

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Presidential campaigns battle for votes in Mass.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders receives the endorsement from a coalition of community groups at the International Association of Iron Workers Local 7 union hall in South Boston. Looking on is Neighbor to Neighbor Executive Director Maria Elena Letona (left). (Photo: Danny Thompson)

The Massachusetts presidential primary contest heated up this week as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made a swing through Boston and Amherst to fire up his base of progressive voters.

At the Iron Workers Local 7 union hall in South Boston, Sanders received the endorsement of a coalition of grassroots organizations who pledged to pull out the stops in the days leading up to next Tuesday’s Massachusetts primary.

“Bernie Sanders speaks to all of who we are as a country, because Bernie’s agenda is our agenda,” said Neighbor to Neighbor executive director Maria Elena Letona. “It is an agenda that is bigger than a presidential race. It is an agenda for a political revolution. It is an agenda for the planet. It is an agenda for people — for workers, students, families, businesses, immigrants.”

At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who is campaigning across the country as a surrogate for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaks in support of the candidate during a press conference.

Sanders’ appearance this week followed a pair of dueling endorsement press conferences in front of the State House last week that underscored the deep divisions among Democrats expected to vote in next Tuesday’s Massachusetts presidential primary.

With Sanders and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a dead heat in the polls, many of the party’s local luminaries are stumping for Clinton.

The press conferences kicked off at 9 a.m. last Wednesday with a bevy of black elected officials stumping for Clinton. At-large City Councilor Ayanna Pressley — who since January has served as a surrogate for Clinton, appearing on her behalf at campaign events around the country — acknowledged Sanders’ appeal to voters, but said Clinton is better poised to lead the country.

“I think Senator Sanders has very effectively tapped into the anger, frustration and cynicism many people have about government,” she said. “But as Senator Clinton says, that anger is real and justified. But anger is not a plan and venting is not a strategy.”

Pressley and others at the State House press conference cited Clinton’s appearance two days earlier in Harlem, where she spoke about the importance of ending systemic racism and outlined a $125 billion proposal to provide job training and education to low-income communities and communities of color.

The pro-Clinton press conference was dominated by elected officials, with state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, former Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral and city councilors Tito Jackson, Michelle Wu and Pressley.

The pro-Sanders press conference, held at 11 a.m., was dominated by Latino nonprofit activists and included Suffolk County Register of Probate Felix D. Arroyo, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Lawrence City Council President Kendrys Vasquez.

“Senator Sanders is the person who is speaking directly to the needs of the city I love — Lawrence, Massachusetts,” Vazquez said. “He’s speaking directly to us, to immigrants, to people who don’t have health insurance. It’s not acceptable that we have people living in poverty who are working two or three jobs.”

Vazquez and others at the press conference told reporters he is encouraged by Sanders’ support for universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, affordable college tuitions and immigrant rights.

“I see, in the district I represent, people facing economic insecurity,” said Sen. Eldridge, whose Middlesex and Worcester District includes Acton, Middleborough and Harvard. “I think we need change in this country that aligns with what Bernie is talking about. As much as I appreciate the progress we’ve made under Obama, inequality has gotten worse. I think we need bolder strategies.”

Centro Presente Executive Director Patricia Montes stumps for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders during a press conference.

Institutional support

Democratic activists say Clinton appears to have the support of many of the state party’s heavy hitters, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, the Massachusetts congressional delegation (minus U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren), Attorney General Maura Healey, Treasurer Deb Goldberg and Auditor Suzanne Bump.

But Sanders’ lead in the polls underscores the more populist appeal of his grassroots movement, according to one Democratic activist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It’s a bureaucracy versus a movement,” said the activist, who is not affiliated with either campaign. “A movement is always going to attract more people. It’s hard to compete with that. Especially when you have a wet-blanket message of pragmatism.”

While congressional leadership has gone with Clinton, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Caucus has not taken a position in the race, according to Chairman Russell Holmes.

“Our position is that we will not endorse until we have had the opportunity to meet with the candidates,” said Holmes. “Even if it’s by phone.”

Holmes did meet with Saunders’ Massachusetts campaign officials at the Dorchester home of Kevin Peterson, along with a group of about 30 black community political activists.

Peterson, a Sanders supporter, said the Vermont senator’s progressive platform appealed to many at the meeting.

“I think he offers a progressive message to the African American community that goes beyond the standard, boilerplate messages we’ve been getting from candidates,” he said. “He’s putting things on the table that are worth listening to.”

Clinton’s track record

The press conferences last week presented an interesting contrast between the Democratic candidates and their supporters.

Clinton’s supporters cited her experience as a key difference.

“To me it’s simple,” Pressley said. “She’s not new to the issues to this fight. On the issues I care about, she has a track record.”

But for Patricia Montes, executive director of the immigrant rights group Centro Presente, Clinton’s track record is an issue.

“When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she supported a coup d’état in my country,” said the Honduran-born East Boston resident.

While Clinton has denied supporting the overthrow of democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, emails the State Department released in September detailed efforts undertaken by Clinton and her staff to undermine Zelaya’s attempts to negotiate his return to power.

Montes and other speakers also panned Clinton for her vocal support for the deportation of undocumented immigrants.

“She supported deportation of undocumented immigrants from Honduras and El Salvador,” Montes said. “She knows those countries are now the most dangerous countries on the planet.”

Also speaking for Sanders, Gabriel Camacho noted that Clinton served on the corporate board of Walmart at a time when the retail giant was sued for paying women lower wages than those paid to male workers and for violating the rights of workers who were locked in its stores while they cleaned.

“Massive lawsuits were happening while Hillary was on the board of Walmart,” he said.