Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders stumped Sunday afternoon against the backdrop of the iconic Coney Island boardwalk, a symbol of Brooklyn resilience and recovery after superstorm Sandy.
To sustained cheers from the thousands of supporters — mostly young people — Sanders spoke against income inequality in the United States, calling for expanded Social Security benefits and a higher minimum wage, among other economic changes.
“A great nation is judged by how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable people among us,” the senator from Vermont said in remarks that lasted nearly an hour.
His backers gathered in chilly weather under the Parachute Jump, a former amusement park ride that still stands along the boardwalk, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and Luna Park’s roller coaster on the other.
Spectators watched him from the beach and many in the crowd that packed the boardwalk wore shirts that read “Feel the Bern.” One person carried a cutout of Sanders’ head painted in the rainbow colors of the LGBT pride flag. Some brought young children in strollers.
The crowd at some points chanted his name: “Bernie, Bernie.”
The rally was the seventh public event in New York City for Sanders in the past three days. On Friday, he spoke to supporters at his childhood home in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Sanders is competing with rival Hillary Clinton in her adopted home state.
Clinton, the former New York senator and U.S. secretary of state, who lives in Westchester County, has a 16 percentage point lead in her adopted home state of New York, a Fox News poll found last week.
New York’s primary is April 19.
Sanders won the Wyoming primary on Saturday, his eighth victory out of the Democrats’ last nine contests.
A blocks-long line of people waited for hours to go through security to enter the venue, and volunteers welcomed them with dancing to songs by Bob Marley and The Beatles. The crowd was racially diverse, but was made up of primarily young supporters.
“We are listening to young people all across this country,” Sanders said, adding, “Young people of this country have made it very clear that they are the future of America and they damn well want to help shape that future.”
Supporters noted Clinton’s sizable lead in pledged delegates but said they believe in Sanders’ message.
“If we don’t win New York, we’re out,” predicted Mark Levine, 67, a lifelong resident of Coney Island.
He said he appreciated the energy of the young and college-age supporters Sanders has attracted.
“I’m voting for Bernie because I don’t believe that Hillary is the right person for president,” said Levine, who is retired. He said he doesn’t think she is trustworthy.
Vlady Kozubnyak, 20, of Coney Island, said he has been canvassing in the neighborhood on behalf of Sanders. The Empire State College student also attended Sanders’ rally Friday in Flatbush.
He said Sanders’ progressive platform has been consistent throughout the years, including the 1960s, when he was arrested for protesting segregation.
“I like that he’s honest,” Kozubnyak said. “He’s been steady the whole time. He’s been a protester the whole time. . . . You have to have real heart to get arrested for what you believe in.”
The supporter admitted that he is concerned about the delegate math, which favors Clinton.
“Everyone is prepared for him to lose, but we’re hoping he won’t,” Kozubnyak said.
Oscar Salazar, who wore a shirt emblazoned with several images of Sanders’ face, said he has seen the senator speak at four New York City rallies in recent weeks.
“It speaks to me. It still speaks to me,” Salazar, 20, a college student from Westchester County, said.
He said the country has been divided by Republican candidate Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
“You should always, always try love in this world,” he said.
Sanders again touched on familiar themes, criticizing Clinton for raising funds from political action committees and delivering big-dollar speeches on Wall Street while he runs what his backers described a grass-roots campaign where the average contribution is $27.
He again called on Clinton to release the transcripts of the speeches she delivered before Wall Street audiences, mockingly saying he would do so himself.
“That is pretty easy because there were no speeches, there were no transcripts,” Sanders said, claiming he wouldn’t take even $2 for such a speech.
Clinton, who spoke at a Queens church Sunday morning, has responded in the past that those speeches would have no impact on how she would conduct herself as president and that it was common practice for high-profile officials to get paid for speeches.