Democratic presidential rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders could face off in a hotly anticipated war of words in Brooklyn ahead of the April 19 primary, after the former New York senator finally said Tuesday that she is open to a debate in Kings County amid mounting pressure. Now local Berners say the two camps must lock it in so Brooklynites can hear for themselves where the two candidates stand on the issues.
“A debate is extraordinarily important,” said Sunset Parker Paul Brown, who decided to volunteer with the Sanders campaign after travelling around Vermont and speaking to the senator’s constituents. “People need to know first-hand where these candidates stand.”
Sanders first threw down the gauntlet for a Brooklyn debate back in January, but the Clinton campaign refused to respond publicly until Monday, when one of the former secretary of state’s strategists fended off the question by saying on CNN that the tone of Sanders’ campaign had become too negative.
“Let’s see the tone of the campaign he wants to run before we get to any other questions,” said Joel Benenson, who also inadvertently complimented his boss’s opponent when he speculated that Sanders would campaign in New York “like a Brooklynite” while Clinton would stump “like a senator.”
Sanders fans responded with a barrage of tweets under the hashtag “#ToneDownForWhat?” demanding Clinton agree to the debate, and on Tuesday night, she told reporters at an event in Wisconsin she now is open to a Borough of Kings battle royale.
“If they can find a mutually agreeable date in the next couple of weeks before New York, I think it could happen,” Clinton staffer Brian Fallon subsequently told Bloomberg.
And Brooklyn Clinton supporters say they’re excited to see their top pick go head-to-head with Sanders on local turf, too.
“I think it would be exciting,” said Park Sloper Lisa Chamberlain, who is volunteering with the Clinton campaign and suggested the verbal wrangle could take place at the recently renovated Kings Theatre in Flatbush. “Hillary is an excellent debater — I definitely support her asking Sanders to tone down the negativity, but she has nothing to lose.”
But, they say, it will probably be more spectacle than substance, and they’re not sure there is much either candidate can say at this point that politically engaged Brooklynites haven’t heard.
“I generally think that more transparency is better,” said Gowanus resident Chandler Sante, who says he likes both Democratic candidates but prefers Clinton. “I think the optics on this are being played out because this is Hillary’s home turf, which is ridiculous because we know what there positions are.”
Both candidates are hoping to capitalize on their ties to the borough — Clinton placed her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn Heights, while Sanders was born and raised in Flatbush before inexplicably defecting elsewhere.
Clinton has handily out-earned her rival in Brooklyn so far — Kings County fans donated around $1,646,000 to her campaign as of last month, while local Sanders supporters have only donated around $581,000, according to disclosure data. But Sanders has the numbers on his side — he scored more than 7,000 individual contributions from the borough, while Clinton received more than 5,000.
The Clinton campaign did not return request for comment by press time.
Where should a Brooklyn debate take place? We put forward five suggestions in January, and Barclays Center was the top pick. Here are four more ideas.