Hillary Clinton unveils ‘economic revitalization plan’ during Denmark town hall

MAYA T. PRABHU/STAFF Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a town hall at Denmark-Olar Elementary School on Friday.

DENMARK — Hillary Clinton returned to South Carolina on Friday for a town hall in one of the state’s poorest counties where nearly one-third of the residents live in poverty.

More than 400 supporters enthusiastically welcomed the Democratic presidential candidate to Denmark-Olar Elementary School where she told them her policies would help create a level playing field.

She also targeted nomination rival Bernie Sanders, telling the largely black crowd she is better equipped to continue the policies of President Barack Obama than Sanders.

“He has called the president weak, a disappointment, he tried to attract a candidate to actually run against the president when he was running for re-election,” Clinton said.

She added, “He does not support — as I do — building on the progress that the president has made.”

While at the school Clinton unveiled a $125 billion economic revitalization plan she said would target “America’s under-served communities.”

“I am going to go after every single barrier that stands in the way of what Americans can do,” she said. “And that starts with a very specific agenda, and I wanted to come here to Denmark to roll this agenda out.”

Bamberg and the town of Denmark provide a clear backdrop representing the economically depressed, agricultural and rural economic tract in the state. The county is 61 percent black, according to U.S. Census numbers from 2012, while a separate Purdue Center for Regional Development study estimates 29 percent of its residents live in poverty. That number was up from 21 percent in 2000.

Clinton’s plan, which targets communities such as Bamberg County, includes $50 billion to create new jobs and $20 billion for programs designed to put young unemployed people back to work.

She described the effort as based on a similar initiative proposed by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., which takes 10 percent of the money that would be spent on infrastructure and allots it to the 20 percent of communities that have lived with continued poverty rates for more than 30 years.

The plan is the first part of Clinton’s larger “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” which her campaign focuses on closing the education achievement gap, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and fighting for environmental justice, among other provisions.

“Here in South Carolina, if you look at life through the eyes of a child in the rural areas here, you would see crumbling schools, decrepit conditions, teachers overworked, underpaid, and schools that have suffered a generation of neglect,” Clinton also told the crowd.

Bamberg County is part of the more than 20-year-old Abbeville lawsuit, which determined South Carolina has neglected to provide a minimally adequate education in eight of the state’s poor, rural school districts.

Clinton additionally tied the lead-tainted water disaster in Flint, Mich., to conditions elsewhere in America where black neighborhoods suffer the most from negative environmental exposures.

“I will say what I said in Flint about your state of schools here in South Carolina: if the water had been poisoned in a white affluent suburb of Detroit, if the schools were falling apart in rich suburbs of Columbia or Charleston, there would have been an outcry,” she said.

Those in the crowd were encouraged by Clinton’s words. Columbia resident Sandy Jowers, a retired educator who said she worked in rural schools in South Carolina, supported Clinton’s message of supporting struggling schools.

“She had a loud message about trying to get more assistance to the children, by improving schools, education and the facilities,” she said.

“As a Democrat, she’s more in line with my beliefs in taking care of the downtrodden and poor and those who can’t help themselves,” added retired computer specialist Russell Dowery.

Reach Maya T. Prabhu at 843-509-8933.