With Pennsylvania’s presidential primary looming on Tuesday, the campaigns of Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are heating up in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood, a predominantly black Democratic stronghold of some 40,000 residents that may be a litmus test of the African-American vote citywide.
While Clinton has won the black vote in every primary so far, Sanders appears to be mounting a significant challenge to her in the Germantown area. “I think the vote will go to Hillary, but it’s hard to say,” said Greg Paulmier, leader of Germantown’s 12th ward.
Getting out the vote
The Democratic party machine swung into action on Saturday as ward leaders in Germantown began distributing campaign literature, lawn signs, ballot lists and so-called “street money” – cash stipends of $150 — to foot soldiers tasked with getting out the vote on Tuesday.
From his home on Winona Street in Germantown, Paulmier greeted dozens of committee people on Saturday morning, loading them down with campaign materials to use at the polls on Tuesday.
“We need a change — a big change — in this country,” said Clinton supporter Anita Hamilton, an African-American division leader, as she plucked campaign literature from Paulmier’s dining-room table cluttered with campaign fliers, bumper stickers, buttons and sample ballots. “I think a woman will give it to us.” As she left, Hamilton carried a stack of sample ballots with Clinton’s name at the top of the ticket.
The Democratic City Committee has endorsed Clinton as it did in 2008 when Clinton was running against Barack Obama.
Just a few blocks away from the 12th ward’s staging area, Sanders’ volunteers were gearing up for Tuesday’s election as well as they gathered at a field office on Greene Street near Chelten Avenue in the heart of Germantown.
For several weeks, Sanders supporters have been mounting a spirited grassroots campaign to win the black vote in Germantown. Volunteers have canvassed the area block-by-block with help from Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks, a local spin-off from MoveOn.org.
“Most African Americans in this community do survive off of minimum wage or something near that,” said Sanders’ volunteer Joel Leek, a forklift operator. “So a change from $7.25 an hour to $15 an hour, which is what Bernie proposed, will have a significant contribution to the black community.” Clinton, by contrast, has proposed a minimum wage of $12 an hour, he noted.
Leek, who went door-to-door in Germantown, spoke as he stood in the Sanders’ field office at 5737 Greene St., which was festooned with campaign paraphernalia, including a t-shirt that read, “Black Men for Bernie.”
Despite the push to capture the vote of black men, most of the volunteers who popped in and out of Sanders’ Germantown office one recent day appeared to be young white women.
Capturing the urban black vote is vitally important to winning Pennsylvania, according to Miguel Glatzer, a political science professor at La Salle University. “Pennsylvania is going to be a better state for Hillary Clinton than some recent states that Bernie Sanders won in part because Pennsylvania has a larger African-American population in its electorate,” he predicted.
Clinton has won a majority of black voters in every state where primaries have been held so far.
In last Tuesday’s primary in New York state, Sanders made a concerted effort to bring blacks into the fold, picking up the the support of former NAACP president Ben Jealous and sponsoring a TV ad by Spike Lee that featured Harry Belefonte. Despite the effort, Sanders lost New York’s black vote by 50 points.
Overall, Clinton won a double-digit victory in New York, carrying not only blacks and Hispanics but also women, the college-educated, suburban residents and older people.
In Pennsylvania, recent projections by www.fivethirtyeight.com, which aggregate the results of many different polls, have Clinton winning Pennsylvania by more than 13 points.
While the two candidates agree on fundamental principles, they differ on several issues that have particular resonance in minority communities. These include how far to raise the federal minimum wage; how to reduce income inequality; and how to make college affordable.
‘Black vote’ not monolithic
Despite predictions for a strong Clinton finish in Pennsylvania, blacks in Philadelphia may not stand as solidly behind her as they did in New York. On Saturday, The Philadelphia Tribune, the city’s African-American daily that has been publishing for more than 130 years, endorsed Sanders.
The paper’s editorial said Sanders “offers an inspiring message and bold vision for America without the excessive baggage of Clinton.”
Recent interviews in Germantown indicate that the former secretary of state can’t necessarily take “the black vote” for granted because it is not monolithic. Younger African-Americans, for instance, tend to support Sanders, while older African Americans lean toward Clinton.
“I support Bernie Sanders because he wants to make college tuition affordable to all,” said a Germantown man who identified himself as Ty, a 25-year-old merchandiser for Nabisco. “It’s a dream to be able to go to school without worrying about being in debt before you even get your life started.”
Sanders has proposed free college tuition at all public schools, but has yet to spell out how he would achieve that. Clinton, on the other hand, has proposed that college graduates from both public and private schools never be required to pay more than 10 percent of their income to repay their college loans.
Several older African-American residents of Germantown, both women, said Clinton’s experience, particularly in foreign policy, was what was most important. “You really have to know what you are doing to deal with foreigners,” said one woman as she sat in blue jeans and a gray shirt during an interview at Center in the Park, a senior activity center. “We are no longer a super country. We are almost a Third World country.”
Wall Street goes free
Still, some senior citizens in Germantown said they will pull the lever for Sanders on Tuesday. J. Vincent Allen is one. A registered Democrat, he also calls himself a socialist. Like Sanders, he is highly critical of Wall Street and big banks. “Now, if I owe the IRS $10, they’ll come after me,” Allen said. “But if Wall Street owes $1 billion, it’s erased.”
Allen conceded, however, that he’s an exception among seniors. Most older black citizens in Germantown, he said, are likely to follow the lead of black churches and “the old black establishment” and vote for Clinton. He added: “The Democratic Party is a party of not thinking outside the box. It’s whatever your ward leader says or whatever your council person says.”
In the 12th ward, a number of committee people told their ward leader on Saturday they were divided about whom to support. They picked up sample ballots led not only by Clinton but also by Sanders.
“Bernie is correct,” said John Connelly as he grabbed a stack of sample ballots with Sanders at the top of the ticket. “When you take money from the establishment, you do what the establishment wants you to do.”
Connelly, an African-American veteran of the Vietnam War, said the African-American community needs to “start reading up” on candidates before voting. “The majority of people who vote don’t know who the candidates are,” he said.
(La Salle University students Marissa Mazza, Amanda Keaton, Matthew Meffe, Mike Catalino and Jordan Greene also contributed reporting.)