Bill Clinton in his element

Miami CNN  — 

Watching Bill Clinton stroll through a public housing project in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, it would be easy for the average passerby to forget the former president’s most recent days of campaigning are years behind him.

Clinton was in his element, sporting a tucked in, pale blue Clinton Global Initiative t-shirt and fire red tennis shoes. Flanked by people, the former president took too many selfies to count, asked questions of most every person and laughed when people shouted, “What’s going on Bill?” from their windows.

Clinton was in Miami for the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting, a gathering of more than 1,000 overachieving millennials with philanthropic projects to pitch the foundation. Sunday’s visit to Liberty City, an impoverished, primarily African-American neighborhood of Miami, was the meeting’s final event – a day of service with the Miami Children’s Initiative.

Clinton walked through the eight-block neighborhood as hundreds of CGI volunteers painted basketball courts, fixed gym equipment and planted vegetables.

Clinton joined in, too. Here he is turning a court purple with Miami Dolphins players:

For the last two weeks, the Clinton family has been dealing with nagging controversies about their foundation’s fundraising practices and Hillary Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email system while she served as secretary of state.

Clinton addressed the email issue on Sunday.

Asked by CNN about whether his wife had been treated fairly, the former president said, “I’m not the one to judge that. I have an opinion but I have a bias.”

“I shouldn’t be making news on this,” he said.

That was fine by the volunteers, residents and Miami politicians in attendance, who, on the whole, were more focused on the day’s philanthropy than stories that have dominated the national political conversation. The event organizers were all smiles when Clinton bent down (showing the faded imprint of a wallet in his back pocket) to plant some greens or shoot a few baskets with kids at a bounce house basketball hoop (his first shot was an air ball).

Clinton greeted everyone like they were longtime friends. He hugged a few parents steps off a repainted basketball court and when they began to tell him stories about the neighborhood, he rested his hand on their shoulders and intently stared.

He signed autographs, too, including the white band on a young CGI students watch and a mural painted by a park.

The Liberty City project, which the Clinton Foundation was helping on Sunday, is spearheaded by Cecilia Gutierrez, a women described as a “force of nature” by multiple people in small neighborhood.

“She knows all of them,” spokeswoman Suzan McDowell said of Gutierrez’s knowledge of the neighborhood.

At the first stop of the day, Gutierrez greeted Clinton at the community garden behind a row of public housing. With a handful of greens, they chatted about how the cucumbers, radishes and arugula being planted would be given to people in the neighborhood.

“My main job is just to thank people so we can go to work,” said Clinton in a speech kicking off the event. “It is a good thing to finish by reminding ourselves that real change is made on the ground.”

Watching Clinton in Miami, it was clear how his political skills carried him from Hope, Arkansas, to the White House. And why he could be a strong asset for Hillary Clinton when she announces her all-but-certain 2016 campaign for president.