BY JON CRONIN AND LYNN EDMONDS
Hillary Clinton made surprise visits to three churches in Jamaica on Sunday to ask for the support of congregants there in the upcoming April 19th Democratic primary. She stopped at historically black congregations Greater Allen A.M.E. in Jamaica, Mount Moriah AME Church in Cambria Heights and New Greater Bethel Ministries in Queens Village.
Clinton was the only presidential candidate in Southeast Queens this week, though she wasn’t the only one trying to win votes in the newly contested and competitive New York State Primary.
Bernie Sanders hit LaGuardia Community College with a rally on Sunday and Heidi Cruz, wife of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), made a visit to Terrace on the Park in Flushing on Monday night and former President Bill Clinton came to Queens Crossing in Flushing on Tuesday morning to push his wife’s agenda. Ohio Governor John Kasich came to Howard Beach last month, while Queens native Donald Trump kept his campaigning upstate and on Long Island.
Hillary Clinton’s first church visit was at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral. With over 23,000 members and budget of $34 million for the church and its subsidiary corporations, which include a school and commercial and residential developments, Greater Allen AME it is one of the strongest institutions in Southeast Queens and one of the most influential churches in America.
With clear voices ringing from the choir and the notes of the organ reverberating through the giant space, Clinton walked in through a side door near the front of the church and stood in a front pew as the music kept playing. A small ripple of energy made its way through the crowd as people noticed her. She swayed from side to side and double-clapped along to the music until the end of the song.
Rev. Floyd Flake, who served as a congressman for 11 years, introduced her by recounting the story of how they first met in her kitchen 25 years ago, when former president Bill Clinton was campaigning.
“She cooked some cookies for us, I think some lemonade or something, I don’t remember everything,” he said to laughter. “It was a wonderful experience just meeting them then and we’ve been friends ever since.”
He said he felt justified for bringing a political figure into the church because Bill Clinton had a positive impact in Southeast Queens while he was in office.
“Some people would say, why would you have her come into the church? But I’ll tell you, our congressman’s here, and I think he will attest to the fact, that without Bill Clinton, we would not have the facilities that we have in this community,” Flake said.
Clinton picked up on the familiar theme when she took the microphone.
“It’s true, he was in my kitchen. All those years ago. Eatin’ cookies, drinkin’ lemonade, talkin’ about the future,” she said.
She also called the church by its shorthand name.
“It is such a great privilege to be back here at Allen,” Clinton said, before moving on to campaign issues around the economy, criminal justice reform and gun violence.
“If you work hard and you do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead, and bring your family with you, and lift them up and provide for the next generation,” Clinton said. She said she wanted to work on increasing wage growth and the number of good-quality jobs.
“I know some people are just heartsick over the criminal justice system and incarceration and what it has done to so many families,” Clinton said.
But while talking about change, Clinton also made a point to praise President Barack Obama, for whom she served as Secretary of State. She framed her campaign for presidency as a way to continue his legacy.
“I don’t think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for saving our economy, for passing the Affordable Care Act, which has gotten insurance to 12 million Americans, and doing so much else that has been good and right for America,” she said. “I want to build on that progress.”
With Bill Clinton’s time in office often remembered as an age of prosperity, Clinton also said she would use the “lessons” from his presidency if elected.
Clinton spent about 20 minutes in each church. By the time she got to her last stop, Bethel Ministries, her energy was substantially higher than it had been at Greater Allen and she’d gone from pondering and storytelling to a more enthusiastic, proselytizing style.
Bethel Ministries in Queens Village surged with positive energy for the Clinton campaign after their mass Sunday morning as both their pastor Dr. John H. Boyd II and U.S. Rep Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) touted the presidential-hopeful’s hard work for the Black community.
After years of economic downturn in the country, Boyd said, “Because of grace and mercy and great leadership, we have survived.” He noted that recently someone said to “We need a political revolution in this country.” Boyd contested, “That political revolution started in 2008 when we elected the first Afro-American President Barack Obama.”
“I think someone was taking a nap with Rip Van Winkle. The revolution has already started and this revolution will continue,” said Boyd.
He noted that he was happy with the pace growth of economy and jobs in the U.S. ending his appraisal with, “And the revolution continues…” He continued to praise the current administration for the Affordable Care Act, lower income taxes, lower gas prices, better fuel efficiency, ending each praise with, “And the revolution,” then holding out the microphone for his parishioners to yell ecstatically “Continues!”
“That revolution is over,” Boyd said, “It’s time to start another. This morning we are here to pass the torch to a woman who is completely able to carry us with the Lord’s help to victory.
“We are not a country that is going to be great, we are a great America.”
Meeks said, “All of us have a part in this history. Someday someone is going to ask you, ‘What was your role in continuing this revolution?’”
He believes Secretary Clinton has been, “Consistent and persistent,” in fighting for what she believes in. He said when President Bill Clinton was elected, “First thing she did when she got in there was try to make sure everyone had health care.”
Meeks said as a member of the New York delegation, and when she was a U.S. Senator representing New York, Clinton came to meetings with ideas on how to get implement better gun control and how to make sure voters got to the polls.
“They know she gets things done. They know she breaks glass ceilings. She will continue the revolution,” said Meeks.
Clinton walked out to outrageous applause and told the congregation, “Congressman Meeks and Dr. Boyd are right. We must continue the progress. We must make sure that nothing or no one holds us back or sets us against each other.”
She said as a young girl she never dreamed she would have the opportunities she did. She noted that she worked for the Children’s Defense Fund right out of law school. She went to Alabama “to end the scourge of segregated academies.” She said she also went to North Carolina to get children out of adult jails, “Where they never belonged in the first place.”
She said she worked to get children with disabilities into schools, was involved in helping the first African American woman to pass the bar in Mississippi and with Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. She said she has demonstrated, “A commitment to issues about how we live and work together is rooted deep within my experience and my heart.”
Clinton touted her husband’s presidency as one that was committed to Americans “Getting ahead and staying ahead.” She noted that 23 million jobs were created and income rose for all, not just the wealthy, during that time. African-American median income rose 33 percent, she claimed. “We were on the right track. Then something interrupted it, a Republican president, who set about to dismantle everything that had been done in eight years,” said Clinton.
She said Obama inherited the worse financial crisis since the Great Depression. “It’s worse than they told us,” she said Obama reported. Clinton told the story of how she joined the Obama Administration. During a walk with her husband, in a forest near their Westchester County home, his phone rang, it was Obama and he wanted to speak with Hillary. President Clinton asked if they could call him back when they got home. “I didn’t know it yet, but he was going to ask me to be Secretary of State.”
Regarding the Obama’s landmark legislation, the Affordable Care Act, Clinton said, “I want to make it absolutely clear, I will work to defend it. What works and how to make it better, that’s how you learn. We finally got it done under Barack Obama, it is worth continuing that revolution.”
Other issues she used as a touchstone were early childhood education, making college affordable for the middle-class and paying down student debt, and gun control.
“And yes I will take on the gun lobby, cause the number one cause of death for young African-American men, more than the next nine causes combined is gun violence. We have to work together to divert young people from thinking guns are the answer to anything.”
On Tuesday, Bill Clinton visited Flushing’s Queens Crossing to talk to a primarily Chinese and Korean American crowd.
Introduced by Olympian Michelle Kwan, Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing), Clinton went into extensive detail about his wife’s platform, with a special focus on issues affecting the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
He touted Clinton’s policy idea of having college debt be reduced to ten percent of after-tax income, so that graduates wouldn’t be weighed down by debt or have to make career choices based solely on income.
He also said the plan would make help graduates to have better credit scores and make it easier for them to take out business loans. Bill Clinton bragged that his wife had doubled the number of small business loans to women and minorities in her time as a U.S. Senator.
He said Clinton would also offer immigrant families a path to full citizenship and implement Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Parents of Immigrants to prevent mixed-status families from being broken up. He also said Clinton would work to shorten decades-long waiting lists for family visas.
He also criticized Trump’s idea of walls and banning Muslims, saying that terrorism could not be stopped through physical barriers but that the U.S. government needed to wage the battle in part through social media, where many radicals are recruited.