BUFFALO, N.Y. — Canvassers for Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders do think enough alike that they picked meeting places less than half a block apart on Saturday morning.
But in the downtown parking lot of the Polish community group where Clinton supporters were rallying just ahead of Tuesday’s New York primary, Democratic officialdom was out in force. Whereas around the corner at Sanders headquarters, one local organizer said the fact that party elites had rejected his man was a point in his favor.
“It motivates me at least, and it motivates some of [the volunteers] too, that the party doesn’t want this guy,” said Brian Nowak, the ‘Buffalo for Bernie Sanders’ group’s lead organizer. “There must be something with him.”
Clinton supporters here, including Mayor Byron Brown and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, tend to see Buffalo as booming, thanks in part to her efforts as a New York senator from 2001 to 2009. Sanders voters see a still-struggling economy.
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“Buffalo is viewed as the hottest city in the nation — they’re not talking about temperature,” said Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins, “and she’s been a big part of that.”
Higgins said he worked closely with Clinton when he was spearheading development of the waterfront and the downtown medical campus. He recalled receiving a three-minute voicemail from her once while she was walking along the Chicago waterfront and relaying ideas to boost Buffalo’s effort: “There were no television cameras, there were no reporters. That was a genuine interest.”
Clinton voter Ray Bly sees it that way, too; he moved here six years ago, after losing his job in New York City and deciding to buy a foreclosed fixer-upper for $500.
“This is the new Buffalo,” Bly said as he got out of the car to knock on doors in the predominantly African-American northeast side of town. Down one street were older homes, some of them run down. But around the corner, a new development had sprung up where vacant properties once stood.
“She’s a strong individual, period,” Ava, a middle-aged woman standing outside, said to explain her support for Clinton. Others pointed to Clinton’s knowledge and experience in government.
The Rust Belt city is clearly in a resurgence, but the economic recovery here still lags well behind the rest of the country. According to The Buffalo News , employment is rising three times faster in the country as a whole, and twice as fast across the state, compared to the Buffalo region. Those hit hard by the economic recession are still feeling left behind, and some are clamoring for change at the highest levels of government. Enter, Bernie Sanders.
‘It’s the fairness of the thing’ “I’m a hard-working person and I want to see my income be able to support me,” Sanders-supporting Rose Duggan, who is 32, told an undecided voter in downtown Buffalo.
Beth Kauffman, 77, who was also canvassing for the Vermont senator, chimed in that corporations should pay their fair share in taxes. “Think about that when you pay your taxes,” Kauffman told the voter. “It’s the fairness of the thing.”
Duggan and Kauffman were working the west side of the city, and they encountered mostly Sanders supporters as they walked through the predominantly white neighborhood.
One man said he supported Sanders because he’s focused on issues like income inequality and the rising cost of higher education. But he seemed worried about his candidate’s chances of winning the New York primary, in which polling favors Clinton.
Duggan told him she was “cautiously optimistic,” and added that the key was making sure the younger voters who packed a recent Sanders rally at the University of Buffalo actually turn out to vote.
Dillon Smith, 22, who has been organizing his fellow UB students for Sanders, said he particularly likes his candidate’s views on foreign policy and his vote against the war in Iraq — a conflict in which two of his brothers fought. “We’re a generation that hasn’t really known peace,” Smith said.
Sanders supporters certainly face an uphill battle in New York, where the latest polls give Clinton a 10- to 17-point advantage.
But long odds don’t seem to faze his Buffalo supporters.
“The Bills lose all the time,” said Nowak, the leader of the Sanders group, referring to the city’s NFL team, which has yet to win a championship, despite going to the Super Bowl four years in a row. “We’re going to be screwed anyway,” he said, “we might as well defend somebody that is worth defending.”