By Marco Poggio. Bernie Sanders stumps at St. Mary's Park on March 31.

Sanders storms St. Mary’s Park

It was the first time a presidential candidate had made a campaign stop in the South Bronx since Ronald Reagan in 1980.

By Marco Poggio. Two generations of Sanders supporters at St. Mary's Park on March 31.
By Marco Poggio. Two generations of Sanders supporters at St. Mary’s Park on March 31.

Presidential hopeful promises to fix broken justice system, create jobs

St. Mary’s Park was more crowded than anyone has seen it in decades on Thursday, as lines stretched for ten blocks to hear Bernie Sanders. It was the first time a presidential candidate had made a campaign stop in the South Bronx since Ronald Reagan in 1980.

The Senator from Vermont echoed themes New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s made in her State-of-the-City address at Samuel Gompers Middle School in Mott Haven in February, stressing the need to “bring justice back to the criminal justice system,” an issue sure to resonate in a neighborhood with the highest incarceration rates in the city.

“We’re going to reinvest in the South Bronx and in communities all over this country,” the Brooklyn-born candidate said.

Sanders promised to add millions of new jobs, build affordable housing, clean up the environment in communities like Mott Haven and make attending college an option for every kid in the South Bronx.

Turnout was so high—an estimated 18,500 came—that some were forced to watch the event on a screen in another section of the park.

By Marco Poggio. Bernie Sanders stumps at St. Mary's Park on March 31.
By Marco Poggio. Bernie Sanders stumps at St. Mary’s Park on March 31.

“I was thrilled and excited to hear ‘Bernie is coming.’ Candidates don’t often come here, they ignore us,” said John Toribio, 34. “But this is where you discuss the 99 percent.”

“No one’s coming to The Bronx,” said Israel McFadden, 17. “It’s like they’re scared of us. I respect Bernie’s courage to come to a poverty area.” A day earlier, candidate Hillary Clinton stumped at the Apollo Theater in Harlem

The stop brought others to the neighborhood for the first time. But Eric Vargas, 25, who lives in New Britain, Connecticut, and is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, said, “When I saw the Betances Apartments and everyone speaking Spanish and English at once, I felt at home.”

Cayce Kolodney, 20, a resident of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, said, “It’s really nice, I would live here.” He came to hear the candidate speak, he said, because, “It’s a moment in history. In 20 years I can say I was at the Bernie Sanders rally.”

In his final remarks, Sanders urged New Yorkers to support him on April 19, when 291 delegates will be at stake in New York’s Democratic primary.

“If there is a large voter turnout, we will win,” said Sanders. “And if we win here in New York, we’re going to make it to The White House.”

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