Clinton visits SUNY Purchase on campaign trail
Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and Democratic candidate for president, made a campaign stop at SUNY Purchase on Thursday, March 31, approximately two and a half weeks before the state’s primary election.
The campaign chose to host the rally in the intimate Repertory Theatre of the school’s Performing Arts Center, which seats no more than 500 people.
The bleachers were lined with Clinton supporters, eagerly waiting to hear her speak, and occasionally reciting chants led by campaign staffers.
One of those was Rebecca Liebson, of White Plains, a SUNY Stony Brook student who came home to hear Clinton speak. Liebson supports Clinton’s campaign so strongly that she started an on-campus group called Stony Brook Students for Hillary.
Liebson said after “doing her research,” she concluded that Clinton’s policies aligned most closely with her own beliefs, and her pragmatism makes Clinton a more attractive candidate than her primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont.
“I’m also from New York and saw Hillary in action as a senator, so that definitely gave me a good opinion of her,” Liebson said.
Before Clinton arrived on stage, opening remarks were given by Reggie Lafayette, chairman of the Westchester County Democratic Party.
“This is the most important election of our time,” Lafayette said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to say ‘Madame President.’”
Clinton took the stage at about 1:30 p.m., after being introduced by U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, a Democrat.
Clinton, who has resided in Chappaqua for the past 16 years, made sure to highlight her ties to Westchester County in her speech.
“Westchester is more than a county to me, it’s more of a community,” Clinton said. “[Living here] has been the most welcoming experience I can imagine.”
Clinton also mentioned some of her favorite spots in Chappaqua, like Lange’s Deli and Crabtree’s Kittle House.
Not everyone in the theater was a Clinton supporter, however.
Konrad Wainright, a SUNY Purchase student and outspoken supporter of the Sanders campaign, remarked on a discrepancy he perceived, wherein Purchase students were told to sit or stand in spots of the theater that were out of camera shot, as opposed to older attendees, who were strategically placed directly behind Clinton’s podium.
And approximately 10 minutes into her speech, a number of Purchase students situated in the back of the theater, out of cam- era view, shouted, “If she wins, we lose,” and walked out of the theater.
“Oh, I know, the Bernie peo- ple came to say that,” Clinton responded, who went on to say that she had gained 9 million votes during the primaries so far, which is 1 million more votes than Republican candidate Don- ald Trump, and 2.5 million more than Sanders.
Clinton then continued her speech, taking the opportunity to criticize Sanders, who hosted his own campaign rally the same day in St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx, for making promises that she believes can- not be kept. Among those she mentioned were offering free college tuition at public universities and enacting single-payer universal health care, as opposed to just amending the Affordable Care Act.
“Look, you may not be supporting me, but I’m supporting you,” Clinton said, in response to the students who staged a walk- out during the rally. “I just wish we could talk and listen to each other.”
Just outside the Performing Arts Center, a crowd of pre- dominantly Purchase students lined up with anti-Clinton signs, chanting “Feel the Bern,” “Free Palestine” and “Black Lives Matter.”
According to Wainright and several other students who participated in the disruption and subsequent walkout, they left the theater voluntarily to join the rest of the protestors outside, as opposed to being escorted out by the event organizers or security.
Madeline Moran, who was one of the protesters that disrupted Clinton’s speech, said, “I feel that it’s important to show the Democratic Party that we are not going to stand for Hillary, and we’re not just here to support just any Democratic president because we need real progress to be made.”
Mae Williams, a 71-year-old Yonkers resident and a Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus member, said that, despite her support for Clinton, she thinks the passionate response to the rally is a sign of positive political change.
“It’s awesome to see the interest of all the people coming out here today, and that they’re taking [the election] seriously,” Williams said. “People have realized that they got to vote, no matter if it’s Hillary or Bernie.”
A representative from the Clinton campaign said that they believe the event went well.
“We’re thrilled with the turnout today, and with the support for Hillary Clinton all across New York,” said Harrell Kirstein, the communications director for the Clinton campaign. “She has a lot of friends here, and they’ve been coming out to welcome her back to campaigning ahead of the primary.”
Kirstein declined to comment on the disruption by Sanders supporters.
It’s not expected that any oth-er campaign will host a rally at the college, but SUNY Purchase President Tom Schwarz said in an email issued to the student body and faculty prior to Clinton’s rally that it should not be construed as an endorsement by the school, and that if any other candidate had approached them and asked to rent space for an event, the school would afford them the same opportunity.