BOSTON >> With just under two weeks until Massachusetts voters head to the polls to pick presidential candidates, supporters of the two Democratic contenders pitched communities of color from the Statehouse steps on Wednesday.

With separate press conferences scheduled two hours apart, politicians and activists backing Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders each described their candidate as a trailblazer with a concrete plan to tackle racial disparities.

Many of the state's Democratic elected officials have lined up behind Clinton, including some who took trips to New Hampshire to promote her candidacy before the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. Sanders beat Clinton in that contest by a 60-38 margin. A new poll out Wednesday showed her behind in Massachusetts, 49 percent to 42 percent.

The Public Policy Polling survey put former Secretary of State Clinton ahead of Sanders, the U.S. senator from Vermont, in eight of the "Super Tuesday" states where Democrats will vote on March 1, while Sanders took the lead in Massachusetts and in his home state. Contributing to Clinton's lead in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas and Virginia is support from black voters, who backed her at levels ranging from 63 percent to 74 percent, according to the poll.

On Wednesday — the day after Clinton gave a speech in Harlem detailing plans to eliminate what she called "barriers holding back African Americans from fully participating in our society" — several of Boston's black community leaders and elected officials turned out to urge support for their candidate.


Andrea Cabral, a former Suffolk County sheriff who also served as public safety secretary under Gov. Deval Patrick, described Clinton's New York address as "unprecedented."

"Hillary doesn't just identify the scope of problems facing this country or the problems that we face if we fail to address them, she identifies the solutions and works to achieve them," Cabral said. "A remarkable thing happened in Harlem yesterday ... a presidential candidate laid out an agenda specific to African Americans that is designed to reduce and eliminate the social, economic and generational effects of institutional racism."

Cabral was joined by Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry of Dorchester, Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins, Boston city councilors Michelle Wu and Ayanna Pressley, Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts president and CEO Darnell Williams and Alejandra St. Guillen, director of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh's Office of New Bostonians.

Two hours later, with the wooden lectern swapped out for a clear plastic one and the blue signs held by supporters now bearing a different name, the same spot became the stage for Sanders backers to tout their candidate as the right choice for Latino voters.

Patricia Montes, executive director of the Latin American immigrant group Centro Presente, described Sanders as the "first and only mainstream politician" to discuss free trade policies in the context of immigration.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders rally Wednesday on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston.
Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders rally Wednesday on the steps of the Statehouse in Boston. (Antonio Caban — SHNS)

"Policies like those of Henry Kissinger and initiatives like NAFTA result in the suffering and instability that cause people to migrate," Montes said. "Bernie Sanders is talking about changing the dynamic of our policies in other countries and our policies concerning immigrants inside this country. This is totally new for the United States and totally needed, not just for the well-being of immigrants but for the well-being of all U.S. citizens and citizens of other countries."

Other participants in the Sanders event included Sen. Jamie Eldridge of Acton, Suffolk County Register of Probate and Family Court Felix D. Arroyo, Lawrence City Council President Kendrys Vasquez and Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts director Maria Elena Letona.

At both events, speakers largely focused on praising the candidates' positions but made some apparent jabs at opponents as well.

In discussing her support for Clinton, Pressley said that when the families she represents across Boston come to her with problems including food insecurity, violence in their community and the need for childcare, her response "cannot be, 'Wait for campaign finance reform.' " Campaign finance reform is an issue Sanders has often brought up on the campaign trail.

"They deserve real solutions, and Secretary Clinton is offering those, because she knows that plans without price tags are simply pandering," Pressley said.

Later in the day, Vasquez, of the Lawrence City Council, alluded to another frequent point made by Sanders — that he is the only candidate of either party rejecting support from super PACs.

"We have to speak common sense here — it is not about buying an election," Vasquez said. "It is about making sure that the candidates who are running for president of the United States of America will be a person that truly cares about us and not just simply those who can afford to buy them out."

Representatives from both campaigns said they plan to canvas throughout Massachusetts in the 13 days before the primary.