Clinton support faces test in Harlem, N.Y.
Remarks on King, Obama's Iowa win may be taking toll
NEW YORK - Standing in front of the Harlem building where Bill Clinton has his postpresidential office, Audrey Quantano said she has supported the former president and Senator Hillary Clinton "for a very long time."
But now, Quantano can't decide between Clinton and Barack Obama. "I'm split right now," she said. "I've got my list of pros and cons with both of them."
New York's Democratic presidential primary, part of Super Tuesday on Feb. 5, was once considered a cakewalk for Clinton, who has represented New York in the Senate since 2001.
But after Obama's victory in the Iowa caucuses and his close second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary, some see him as a viable candidate in New York as well.
And then Clinton and Obama had a spat over the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The New York senator was quoted as saying that King's dream of racial equality was realized only when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The comments drew criticism, and Clinton said Obama was distorting her statement for his campaign's benefit. On Monday, both Clinton and Obama called a truce.
Whatever the case, some Harlem voters said they were unhappy with Clinton's remark.
"I was offended," said Charlene Hines, an Obama campaign volunteer. "I said, 'There's white entitlement again.' It was agitation that brought it to that point."
As Clinton appeared in midtown on Monday at a rally promoting better working conditions for security officers, signs of Obama support uptown in Harlem ranged from posters in shop windows to Hines soliciting helpers for a get-out-the-vote drive.
"He's an intelligent man," said Ronald Jeffers, who was distributing handbills in front of the Apollo Theater. "I like what he stands for."
A Dec. 17 poll by Quinnipiac University suggested that Clinton was leading Obama 55 percent to 17 percent among likely Democratic voters in New York. No new state polls have been released since Obama's Jan. 3 victory in Iowa.
Clinton enjoys support from Harlem power brokers such as Representative Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and the Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have had a warm relationship with black voters since long before author Toni Morrison called him "the first black president" in 1998.
Harlem residents are used to seeing Bill Clinton on the street since he opened his office on 125th Street, and many have heard one or both Clintons speak to black churches and community groups over the years.
Quantano recalled a 1992 campaign event at which Bill Clinton had his staff take plates of food to onlookers across the street. "That was impressive," she said. "He didn't just bring the food, but he joined them and ate with people." But Quantano said she was also troubled by Hillary Clinton's remark about King. "I'm still working on that one," she said.
Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois and the son of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, has stirred pride among black voters since his emergence on the national political scene.
"People are proud that someone from our community can do so well and can attract people outside our community," said Percy Sutton, former Manhattan Borough president.
Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant, said the Clintons "have always been widely popular among black people." But he added, "There's never been a candidate like Obama before. . . . He has picked up the pace with African-Americans in the last couple of weeks, especially since the win in Iowa. Because the impossible appears more probable."