Last week Gov. Bill Clinton won 57 percent of the vote in the Democratic presidential primary in Pennsylvania. It was another step in an extraordinary accomplishment for a small-state governor, his inevitable nomination for president of the United States.
But Pennsylvania was an anti-climax. The race had been fought and won earlier, and not without heavy casualties. Clinton's character and integrity, for example, were severely wounded.
This is an account from two principle and decisive battlefields: New York City, where the fighting was bloody, and Chicago, where the mine fields were fewer.
On the Saturday afternoon before the New York presidential primary April 7, Clinton's 16-car motorcade swept across the East River from Manhattan to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. This was the real city: Haitians, blacks, body counts.
TAKING THE MEAN STREETS TO THE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION
It was a long way from Hope, but Clinton's winding, bumpy path to the Democratic presidential nomination required a visit to the mean streets. To get black votes in New York City, one must actually encounter black people in New York City. That's especially true when the candidate is perceived as a cultural alien from America's version of South Africa.
Clinton got out of his car to be greeted by several blacks shouting, "Go home, racist. Go back to the South," and "Go home, racist. Go back to your country club."
Rodney Slater, the black state highway commissioner and senior travel aide to the Clinton campaign, related the story four days later: "I'd never heard Bill Clinton and racist used in the same sentence. I looked over at Bill. I could tell by the look on his face that it was like someone had stabbed him in the stomach."
But Clinton is the invincible politician, bloodied, battered and
persevering, nicknamed "RoboPol" because he couldn't be killed by any number of wounds. So he forged his way through the street, greeting, waving, answering questions about economic development and housing from blacks inclined more to listen than shout. The throng of shouters was growing and coming nearer to the candidate. Clinton was by then oblivious to the shouts. "He was campaigning," Slater said, as if to explain fully the oblivion. The Secret Service men were earning their money, crowding around Clinton and keeping a keen eye on the growing throng.
Slater, concerned that a false move could lead to pushing and shoving, and Lord knows what else, told Clinton he needed to go, pointing to his watch to leave the false impression that the governor was behind schedule. Slater and the Secret Service men slowly led the single-minded campaigner back to his car. The press cars were loaded. The Secret Service men sighed and wiped their brows. The motorcade traveled maybe 25 yards, then it stopped when Clinton saw a supporter from Arkansas who had been among 50 or so Arkansas blacks who traveled by bus to New York to campaign for him in black churches the next morning. To the Secret Service's dismay, Clinton abruptly jumped out of the car, back to the mean street, to trot over to the sidewalk and say hello to the familiar face.
Slater said later: "When you're out there in the campaign, especially in New York City, an Arkansas face is like family. The Secret Service couldn't understand it. The national press couldn't understand it. But you understood it, I'm sure."
No, I didn't.
If I had been Clinton, I would have long since told New York City to kiss my behind.
It might have happened when I saw the weekly neighborhood newspaper that serves the liberal, upscale upper west side of Manhattan. The front page headline blared, "Upper West Side to Bill Clinton: Drop Dead."
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