MLK Holiday Offers Stage for Democratic Hopefuls - NBC10 Boston
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MLK Holiday Offers Stage for Democratic Hopefuls

While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King's 90th birthday gives the party's prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views

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    Biden, Bloomberg Speak at MLK Event

    As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., Democratic presidential hopefuls are fanning out across the country to honor the civil rights leader, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. (Published Monday, Jan. 21, 2019)

    As Americans commemorate Martin Luther King Jr., Democratic presidential hopefuls are fanning out across the country to honor the civil rights leader and make themselves heard on the national stage. 

    Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., used the holiday to launch a presidential campaign that, if successful, would make her the first woman and the second black candidate to become president. Former Vice President Joe Biden accepted responsibility for his part in the passage of 1980s legislation that toughened sentences for crack cocaine possession, calling it "a big mistake" because of its damage to the black community.

    South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, hosted two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020: Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. 

    New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand lashed out at President Donald Trump for inspiring "hate and darkness" in a fiery speech in Harlem. South Carolina, a critical early-voting state in the Democratic primary, hosted two senators expected to seek the White House in 2020: Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

    Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg assailed gun violence in remarks at a Washington breakfast celebrating King's life. Elizabeth Warren denounced what she called the systematic suppression of black voters.

    While the Democratic field for 2020 is only beginning to take shape, the year that would have marked King's 90th birthday gives the party's prominent members a valuable opportunity to address race and, potentially, draw a contrast between their own views and those of President Donald Trump, whose approach to questions of racial justice has sparked criticism from multiple minority groups since he took office. 

    What Democratic contenders, both those officially in the race and those still mulling campaigns, said Monday while celebrating the King holiday: 

    JOE BIDEN
    Biden atoned for his role in the passage of a crime bill that imposed stiffer sentences for those convicted of crack cocaine possession - a law that has disproportionately affected the black community. 

    Biden said he hasn't "always gotten things right," but has "always tried." He also spoke about his support for efforts by former President Barack Obama's administration to reduce crack possession sentences. 

    Biden was the head of the Senate's Judiciary Committee when the 1994 crime bill - which is now criticized as having helped create an era of mass incarceration - was passed and signed into law. 

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    Updated Feb. 19, 2019
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    "It was a big mistake that was made. We were told by the experts that 'With crack you can never go back,'" Biden said. "It's trapped an entire generation." 

    Biden says the crack sentencing guidelines are one example of broader racial injustice in America that needs to be fought. 

    "White America has to admit there's still a systematic racism. And goes almost unnoticed by so many of us," he said.

    MICHAEL BLOOMBERG
    Bloomberg said far too many U.S. politicians don't "seem to give a damn" about the victims of gun violence. 

    He said many politicians care more about "getting re-elected than saving lives." He spoke of his own efforts to reduce gun violence, including millions of his own fortune that he's spent supporting gun control initiatives. 

    His speech focused on policies he championed while New York's mayor, such as his efforts to improve schools and reduce neighborhood pollution. And he highlighted how he apologized to the fiancee of Sean Bell, a black man who was shot to death by New York police in 2006, just hours before the man's wedding. At the time Bloomberg was critical of officers, who he said used excessive force.

    ELIZABETH WARREN
    In Boston, Warren called for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to vote for every American. 

    Warren made the comment after saying "people of color have been systematically denied the most basic of human rights: the right to vote." 

    "It would guarantee the right to vote to every American citizen and make sure that that vote is counted. Right now there is no constitutional right," Warren said. "It would help protect and give us grounds for pushing back when localities undercut the right of people to vote." 

    Warren said King's fight was not just about civil rights, but also about economic rights. She said the road to prosperity is steep and rocky for millions of working people, but is "steeper and rockier for black and brown Americans." 

    Warren also criticized the president for the partial federal government shutdown and responded to Trump's offer to Democrats on Saturday to open the government. 

    "If the president wants to negotiate over immigration reform I'm all for it," she said after the speech. "But open the government and open it now."

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    KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND 
    Gillibrand addressed hundreds of African-Americans at a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by civil rights activist Al Sharpton. "We have to have an honest conversation about systemic, institutional and daily individual acts of racism in our country that hold people and families back for generations," Gillibrand said, citing ongoing disparities for black Americans related to heath care, criminal justice and the economy. 

    She continued: "White women like me must bear part of this burden and commit to amplifying your voices. We have to join you on the battlefield for justice... If I really care about your family as much as my own, it really is my fight." 

    Like some of the other ambitious Democrats who spoke out Monday, Gillibrand condemned Trump at length. The president, she said, "has inspired a hate and darkness" that's tearing the country apart along both racial and religious lines. 

    She ended her remarks on a more positive note: "Only what's right can defeat what's wrong. And I feel very called at this moment to do what is right and to fight. Please join me."

    BERNIE SANDERS
    Sanders is citing King's "incredible courage in taking on virtually the entire political and economic establishment of his time" in prepared remarks for the South Carolina rally. 

    "Racial equality must be central to combatting economic inequality, if we are to build an economy that works for all of us, and not just the top one percent," Sanders said in excerpts obtained in advance by The Associated Press. 

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    (Published Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019)

    The Vermont independent senator lost the state's 2016 Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton by more than 40 percentage points. His presence at a Columbia church service Monday and a rally after, as well as several other events in the state, signaled that he plans to redouble efforts in South Carolina should he launch a second White House bid in 2020. 

    "If we end racism in the criminal justice system and in the voting booth, there is no limit to what we can accomplish," Sanders planned to say. 

    CORY BOOKER
    Booker implored those gathered at South Carolina's Statehouse to channel their dissatisfaction with the country's direction into action. 

    Recalling King's words on needing to work toward change rather than waiting for it, Booker urged those in the crowd to build on their ancestors' successes and struggles. 

    "We are dissatisfied that we live in a society that's being seduced by celebrity and forgets that substance is more important than celebrity," Booker said. 

    The New Jersey senator and Sanders participated in a morning prayer service before leading a march to the Statehouse. 

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    "We don't just celebrate King's holiday," said Booker, who is African-American. "We recommit ourselves to be agents of change."

    KAMALA HARRIS 
    Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of Trump's nominees, opened the holiday by declaring her bid on ABC's "Good Morning America." She abandoned the formality of launching an exploratory committee, instead going all in on a presidential campaign. 

    "I love my country," she said when asked what qualifies her for the presidency. "And this is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are. And that fight will always include, as one of the highest priorities, our national security." 

    Harris, 54, grew up in Oakland, California, a daughter of parents from Jamaica and India who were active in the civil rights movement. 

    King, she said, "was aspirational, like our country is aspirational. We know that we've not yet reached those ideals, but our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals. And that inspires me because it is true that we are a country that, yes, we are flawed, we are not perfect, but we are a great country when we think about the principles upon which we are founded." 

    Harris also cited her years as a prosecutor in asserting: "My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else." 

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    (Published Monday, Feb. 18, 2019)

    The senator plans a formal campaign launch in Oakland in a week and will have her headquarters in Baltimore. She's already planning her first trip to an early primary state as a declared candidate. 

    JAY INSLEE
    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who attended a King event last week at a Seattle church, is in overwhelmingly white New Hampshire to address a private fundraiser for the League of Conservation Voters. The event aligns with his intention to put climate change at the center of a presidential campaign if he runs. 

    The juxtaposition highlights the challenges involved in building the diverse coalition necessary to win Democrats' nomination. 

    Highly diverse South Carolina and Nevada are getting heavy early attention but the process still starts with Iowa, which is 91 percent white, and New Hampshire, which is 94 percent white. That all adds up to a balancing act: No one can emerge from a crowded Democratic field without winning a considerable number of non-white voters; but candidates, particularly those who are lesser known, must show some strength in Iowa and New Hampshire or risk not even being around by the time the nominating calendar turns to more diverse states.