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Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters is in prime territory -- for Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton's campaign headquarters is in prime territory -- for Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders supporters rally for their candidate in Brooklyn on April 8. (Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton may have set up her headquarters in the new Brooklyn, that place of plentiful thrift shops, artisan craft brews and unkempt facial hair, but the denizens at the center of this laboratory of hipster culture are still keeping their distance.

On the streets of Williamsburg, Clinton supporters are a rare breed. This is Bernie country. Even the elevated pathway into the neighborhood from Manhattan is marked as such, with expertly drawn portraits of Clinton along with the damning words "100% Wall Street" stamped all over it.

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Clinton's mere act of planting the flag in Brooklyn irritates some voters in this lefty enclave a few miles from the office she set up across from Borough Hall, on that side of the new Brooklyn so gentrified by now it lacks even the ironic kind of grit that hipsters prize.

The irony of the borough this election, though, is that while Clinton is well-positioned to win the day in the old Brooklyn of immigrants and Hasidic Jews and middle-class workers from which Bernie Sanders hails – and which still controls the bulk of the vote – the urban pioneers she has worked hardest to court are unimpressed.

This is territory rich in millennials, and these days when Clinton is asked, yet again, why she fares so poorly with the group, she does the equivalent of throwing her hands up. "Young people have been really caught up in Sen. Sanders' campaign, and I think that is terrific," she said on NBC this month when asked why so few of them are voting for her. "Because the more young people we can bring into the process, particularly into the Democratic primary process, the better."

Over the course of a few hours on a corner of Bedford Avenue that is home to two vintage clothing stores, a bicycle rack crammed with one-speeds and a building wall emblazoned with a portrait of young Muhammad Ali in the ring, residents interviewed were almost unanimously fond of the 74-year-old socialist, Sanders.

"He's not trying to pull any stunts," said Michelle Yazvac, who found it particularly annoying when Clinton made a cameo appearance on "Broad City," the Comedy Central cult hit about two millennial women navigating life in New York. "She is on all these pop culture shows trying to draw in the crowd. … She is trying to appeal to a younger crowd. But, really, where does she truly stand? Bernie is not trying too hard. You just feel it."

Yazvac, a 24-year-old acting student, was walking down the street with her friend Edward Rivera, who pulled open his stylish black leather jacket to reveal a Bernie sticker attached to the inner lining. "She just sounds so contrived," Rivera, a 29-year-old sound engineer, said of Clinton. "Like a game show host."

Even foreign nationals who inhabit this cosmopolitan burg but are ineligible to vote were eager to talk at length about why it is "Bernie's" turn.

"She should be the No. 1 Democratic choice, but [times have changed] and the mood of the country has changed, particularly the under-35s," said Jon Connell, who is British. "She is no longer acceptable. If I were her, I would just be gutted. But life isn't fair."

His wife, 35-year-old Brantlee Connell, said "the 13-year-old me" – the one who rooted for Clinton as a glass-ceiling breaker – "is disappointed I am not more excited about her running." But she said Sanders has purer motives, a more inspired message and, unlike other politicians, "isn't making everything so complicated that you don't know what they are talking about."

Earlier this month, Brantlee Connell attended a Sanders rally in Brooklyn's Greenpoint neighborhood. And all the Twitter buzz about a mainstream media blackout of such events? "It's true," she said. Connell is unswayed by the national studies that find Clinton and Sanders receive roughly the same amount of media coverage.

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FOR THE RECORD

April 18, 11:44 a.m.: An earlier version of this article stated that Brooklyn resident Brantlee Connell attended a campaign rally for Bernie Sanders in the Bronx. The rally she attended was in Brooklyn.

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Soon after, another Sanders enthusiast who went to a rally for the candidate in the Bronx along with 18,000 others came strolling down the street. Thomas Whidden, a full-bearded location scout for production companies, talked about the Bronx event like it was Woodstock. He got in just before the crowd hit capacity hours before the event's start, and attendees were diverted to an overflow area.

There is only one real New Yorker in the Democratic race in Whidden's eyes, and it is not the candidate who represented the state in the Senate for eight years and headquartered her massive presidential campaign operation in walking distance to several subway lines.

"This is her false home," he said of Clinton. "She is not from here. She saw an open seat in the Senate and she took it. She took advantage."

After Whidden strolled down the street, a band of colorfully dressed, singing skateboarders with cases of the retro-favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon cradled under their arms flew by. Later, a man wearing little more than a transparent rain suit and a giant pair of flippers would also come through the neighborhood, also by skateboard. Another skateboarder followed behind, movie camera in hand.

There were no such high jinks back over on the other side of new Brooklyn, under the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge, on a sparkling scrubbed block full of baby strollers and tourists and Clinton fans. Some were lining up for treats at the local One Girl Cookies, perhaps before taking a spin on the local carousel. Others streamed into a lofty bookstore to await Chelsea Clinton.

One Pierrepont Plaza in BrooklynhousesHillary Clinton's presidential campaign headquarters.
One Pierrepont Plaza in BrooklynhousesHillary Clinton's presidential campaign headquarters. (Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)

The campaign event had all the energy of a baby shower. There was a very pregnant host expressing equal measures gratitude and uneasiness with all the attention, a small cross-generational group of polite and attentive listeners, and a lot of talk about children. There was no danger of mistaking it with the millennial-driven political revolution that had taken root back in Williamsburg.

Yet Hillary Clinton herself also reminded on that same day why she has the edge in old Brooklyn, which is what could matter most on election day. The candidate was across the river in East Harlem, where she became the first person in the race to campaign at a New York public housing facility. That included sitting down for a game of dominoes with residents.

At her daughter's bookstore event, allies of Clinton, undeniably frustrated by all the enthusiasm Sanders has drawn for himself in their backyard, urged neighbors to reexamine the Clinton political baggage that is giving voters pause.

"When you are on the front lines, you are going to get the batterers and the bricks thrown at you," said City Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo. "Sen. Sanders has not been as visible on the front line and he has the luxury of not having the same battle scars, or as some call, it baggage."

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Times staff writer Michael A. Memoli contributed to this report.

Twitter: @evanhalper 

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