When Hillary Clinton beats Senator Bernie Sanders in New York on Tuesday, which she is widely expected to do, a big part of the story will be a phenomenon I haven’t seen in the other four primary/caucus states I’ve covered this year (all of which, as it happens, Clinton has won): Many New York Democrats do not appreciate the Sanders campaign’s attacks on their party. And they really don’t like his supporters’ disruptions at Clinton rallies.
I’ve been to a total of five Clinton events in Brooklyn, Washington Heights, and the Bronx in the last few weeks, and I can say conclusively: The biggest applause lines always have to do with Sanders’s recent status as a Democrat, and Clinton’s long history with the party. At all of these events, Clinton surrounded herself with local Democratic leaders, while Sanders has generally been promoted at his much larger New York rallies by a combination of grassroots activists and celebrities, not by local elected officials. To lefties convinced that such folks are corrupt post-Tammany hacks, this is no doubt a selling point for Sanders. But for ordinary people who consider themselves Democrats—and I’ve met a multiracial throng of avid Democrats who are home health workers, nannies, bus drivers, teachers, waiters, social workers, and museum administrators at Clinton rallies—it is part of why he will lose on Tuesday, and perhaps lose big.
At a rally at Co-op City in the Bronx last week, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto riled up the crowd for Clinton by noting, “Only one of them is a Democrat,” to cheers. Bronx City Councilman Andy King kept up the theme. “We don’t want any BS here,” (also, only in New York have I heard people mock Sanders by his initials.) “It’s good to be Democrats, and it’s good to be for Hillary.” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. derided the Sanders supporters who rallied in the Bronx earlier this month carrying “The Bronx is berning” signs—a tone deaf play on the infamous 1978 World Series, when the New York Yankees played against a backdrop of arson and urban despair. It is not a punch line to Bronx residents. “The Bronx will not feel the Bern” on Tuesday, he predicted. “In fact, the Bronx hasn’t been burning for decades.”
But Sanders drew an estimated 18,000 to that Bronx rally. And on the very night Clinton attracted about 1,000 people to Co-op City—a few hundred were turned away—Sanders drew somewhere between 11,000 and 26,000 to Washington Square Park. But while Sanders’s crowds are much larger, the enthusiasm of attendees at Clinton rallies is comparable. A young black woman standing next to me, wearing multiple Clinton buttons, chanted, “We don’t need no BS!” In front of me, an older Latina stood on tiptoes trying to get a photo with her phone, and yelled “Hillary!” every few minutes.
“Supporters of Bernie love rallies. Supporters of Hillary love to vote,” retired art administrator Dewayne Phillips told me, referencing the Sanders rally that night. “We’ve seen that in a lot of states so far.” Another common refrain I heard: Clinton supporters don’t accept Sanders’s sudden embrace of his New York background (though his Brooklyn roots are authentic). “He’s been away so long, Hillary understands what we need.” Phillips echoed a Caribbean immigrant I met at a Brooklyn Clinton event earlier this month. “Bernie needs to go back to Vermont. He left us a long time ago,” she told me as we waited to see Clinton at Medgar Evers College. “Now he comes back pretending to be a New Yorker? He needs to sit his ass down on the couch.”