Hillary Clinton, center, with from left, Regina Jackson, CEO of East Oakland Youth Development Center; Derreck Johnson, owner of Home of Chicken and Waffles; Mayor Libby Schaaf; OSUSD Superintendent Antwan Wilson; and Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan at the Home of Chicken and Waffles Friday, May 27, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. ( (Leah Millis/San Francisco Chronicle via AP, Pool)
OAKLAND — Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign took on a local flavor Friday morning as she held court inside an Oakland diner discussing everything from gentrification to helping ex-felons get jobs.
“That’s why I’m here,” she told her select group of breakfast-mates, who included Mayor Libby Schaaf and Oakland schools Superintendent Antwan Wilson. “I want to be a champion for Oakland and all the Oaklands of America … places that have challenges but places that are coming together.”
Clinton’s visit to the Home of Chicken and Waffles near Jack London Square wasn’t retail politics in its purest form. The nearly one-hour gathering was highly choreographed, with local leaders telling her about their work to help improve people’s lives — and Clinton responding with praise, follow-up questions and a pledge to provide assistance as president.
“This is what I want to do — connect people up with good ideas,” she said.
Friday’s event in Oakland stood in sharp contrast to her rallies the day before in San Jose and San Francisco, where she spoke in bellowing tones attacking Donald Trump to throngs of cheering supporters.
Clinton has held numerous local “roundtables” while campaigning this year, a format her campaign officials say provides a more natural setting for a candidate well versed in the minutia of public policy.
It also gave her an opportunity to speak to issues that resonate particularly in Oakland, an overwhelmingly Democratic city that will be crucial for her in defeating rival Bernie Sanders in the June 7 primary.
Clinton praised the school district’s work in tackling the issue of black students being suspended at a higher rate than other students.
The disproportionate suspension rate, Clinton said, “is part of a disproportionate disciplinary culture and it is part of what contributes to this cradle-to-prison pipeline that we are all committed to ending.”
Clinton also delved into one of Oakland’s — and the Bay Area’s — thorniest problem’s: the surging cost of housing and the displacement of longtime residents.
“There are advantages, of course, to fixing up neighborhoods and making them attractive and all the rest of it,” she said. “But I think it’s a big price to pay to displace everybody who has been there … through the bad times and deserve to be part of the good times.”
But when it comes to building more housing and keeping long-term residents in their homes, she cautioned Mayor Schaaf that Washington could be supportive, but that most the work must be done at the local level. “It would be great if Oakland would show the way,” she said.
The restaurant’s owner, Derrick Johnson, told Clinton that about 70 percent of his employees had done time in jail.
“The most gratifying thing for me is giving somebody their first check,” he said, describing one employee who started crying the first time he was paid.
After Clinton finished her farewells, Johnson said it still felt surreal to have had her in his restaurant.
“The fact that she came down to Oakland and came to a restaurant that is very community-based made me really believe in her,” he said.
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435. Follow him on Twitter at Matthew_Artz.