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Clinton: Ending racial inequality will be 'mission' of presidency

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton met with multiple leaders of prominent civil rights organizations in Harlem Tuesday
  • African-Americans are viewed as a key voting bloc headed into the South Carolina primary

New York (CNN)Hillary Clinton told an audience of top African-American thinkers and legislators on Tuesday in Harlem that ending racial inequities in the United States would be "the mission" of her presidency.

In a speech as political as it was policy focused, Clinton laid out plans to use the federal government to ensure end inequality.
    Race, Clinton said, "still plays a significant role in determining who gets ahead in America and who gets left behind."
    Clinton called for "end-to-end" criminal justice reform, more support for African-American homeowners and a $20 billion spending plan aimed "specifically at creating jobs for young people" in minority communities.
    Clinton's remarks also took aim square at Bernie Sanders, her opponent in the Democratic nomination. Without naming the Vermont senator, Clinton cast him as a "single-issue" candidate ill fit to address all the issues facing America.
    "The truth is we aren't a single-issue country," Clinton said. "We face a complex set of economic, social and political challenges. They are intersectional, they are reinforcing and we have to take the all on."
    "It is not enough for your economic plan to by break up the banks. You also need a serious plan to create jobs especially in places where unemployment remains stubbornly high," she said.
    And in some of her strongest rhetoric of the speech, Clinton implied that Sanders was a late-comer to the African-American community, a knock that mimics what some close to the Clinton campaign have said about Sanders.
    "If we continue to ask black people to vote for us, we cannot minimize the reality of the lives they lead," Clinton said. "You can't just show up at election time and say the right things. You can't start building relationships a few weeks before a vote."
    Clinton said combating inequality has been her "north star" since her days as an aide at the Children's Defense Fund and refuted that idea that she was talking about race in America two weeks before the South Carolina primary because of politics.
    "We have to demonstrate a sustained commitment to building opportunity, creating prosperity and writing wrongs, not just every two or four years, not just when the cameras are on and people are watching but every single day," Clinton said.
    And to cap off her call for a focus on racial inequality, Clinton said that "anyone" asking for African-Americans votes "has a responsibility to grapple with this reality."
    Clinton was joined at the event by a group of New York Democratic heavyweights, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio, former Attorney General Eric Holder, Rep. Charlie Rangel and Al Sharpton.
    While Clinton's proposal was policy heavy, the timing of the remarks were clearly political. After narrowly winning in Iowa and losing handily in New Hampshire, Clinton's race for the Democratic nomination now turns more diverse contests in Nevada and South Carolina, where black voters make up a larger portion of the electorate.
    African-American voters made up 15% of the electorate in Nevada's caucuses in 2008 and with the race between Clinton and Sanders getting closer, the demographic could tip the balance.
    Earlier on Tuesday, Clinton met with multiple leaders of prominent civil rights organizations in Harlem in an effort to gather and shore up support from black voters.
    "The work that each and every one of your organizations do is in furtherance of civil rights and economic justice and social justice and political participation," she told the leaders.
    "I am grateful for what you all have done for so many years," Clinton added.
    While the former secretary of state has been leading opponent Bernie Sanders with black voters, the Vermont senator has attracted a number of endorsements from high-profile African-Americans.
    Attendees at Clinton's meeting included National Urban League President and CEO Marc H. Morial; National Coalition on Black Civic Participation President and CEO Melanie Campbell; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President and CEO Cornell W. Brooks; National Action Network founder and President Rev. Al Sharpton; Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President and Executive Director Kristen Clarke; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President and CEO Wade Henderson; National Bar Association President Benjamin L. Crump; President and Director Council NAACP Legal defense and Education Fund Sherrilyn Ifill and National Council of Negro Women Chair Ingrid Saunders Jones.
    Sanders met with Sharpton last week, though the reverend has not endorsed a candidate.
    Clinton has made race a centerpiece of her campaign since she launched last year. Her first speech was on criminal justice reform and Clinton has made repeated overtures to the African American community for months.
    Earlier this month, Clinton visited Flint, Michigan, to address the city's water crisis where men, woman and children have been poisoned by untreated, lead-filled water.
    "It is a horrifying story but what makes it even worse is that it is not a coincidence that this was allowed to happen in largely back, largely poor community," Clinton said. "Just ask yourself, could this have ever occurred in a wealthy white suburb of Detroit? Absolutely not."
    "Flint is not alone. There are many Flints across our country. Places where people of color and the poor have been left out and left behind," she said.