Butts, With Clinton, Plays Down the Role of Race

Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts announced his long-assumed endorsement of Hillary Clinton in front of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church, where Clinton had honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. earlier this afternoon.

In endorsing Clinton, Butts read a long statement emphasizing his strong relationship with Clinton and his high regard for her experience. (“I, too, join countless Americans in a collective desire for change, and I do so with a vital recognition that change and experience are not mutually exclusive,” Butts said.)

Clinton stood nodding beside Butts as he read his remarks. Across the hanging rope in front of them, the assembled reporters hopped up and down, shivering after an hour-long wait in the aching cold. They sipped from paper cups filled with hot coffee, brought out on trays from the church by Clinton aides, and struggled to hear Butts’ remarks over the din of competing Clinton and Barack Obama supporters gathered in the street.

(The Obama supporters chanted “We live here, they don’t,” behind a sign that said “Share the Dream. Vote for Obama in 2008.” The Clinton supporters chanted “Hill-a-ry.” Chet Whye, one of the Obama supporters, said “This is the battle for Harlem. That’s why she is here.”)

Earlier, in a speech from the altar, Butts seemed to echo a key Clinton criticism of her opponent, that Obama’s talent for inspirational speech was not enough to qualify him for president. (“You don’t just say, ‘save the hospital,’” Butts said. “You’ve got to work with senators and assembly persons, Chairs of Ways and Means. You’ve got to put this thing together in such a way because we live in the United States of America. One brother said that if you don’t understand that, then maybe you need to live somewhere else.”).

Outside, Butts added to his lengthy prepared remarks to address questions he said he had received by phone from his own Harlem supporters as to why he had, “as a black man in this country, decided to announce [his] support for a white woman.”

“I would like to make one thing very clear,” he said. “This was not, and is not, and will not, become a race-based decision for me. And I hope that it is not and will not become a race-based decision for you, either.”

Speaking of Obama, he said, “I love him as my brother,” and argued that a vote for Clinton was in no way a vote against Obama.

When it finally came time for Clinton to speak, she temporarily delighted the Obama supporters by paying tribute to the Illinois Senator, saying, “I have the highest regard and admiration for my friend and colleague Senator Barack Obama. He is an extraordinary human being.”

Then she returned to her argument that she was best qualified to be president.

“This day means a lot to me personally,” she said.

Butts, With Clinton, Plays Down the Role of Race