Clinton stops for sweet potato cobbler in Detroit

Chad Livengood, and Leonard N. Fleming

Detroit — Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton made a stop Tuesday afternoon at the popular Sweet Potato Sensations bake shop on the city’s northwest side on her way to a $2,700-a-ticket fundraiser in Grosse Pointe.

The former secretary of state visited the restaurant in Detroit’s Old Redford neighborhood mid-afternoon, ordered a slice of sweet potato cobbler with a scoop of sweet potato pecan ice cream and mingled with patrons during a 40-minute visit.

“I’ve said in this campaign that I want to be the small business president,” Clinton told reporters. “And I’m making a real point of sort of identifying and visiting small businesses that are successful, sometimes against the odds, but really provide either a service or product that people in their communities are buying up and giving a good base for further growth.”

“And that’s what we need to do more of.”

Clinton’s trip to Metro Detroit was her first public visit in Michigan since she launched her second White House campaign in April.

Democratic political strategist Jill Alper and her husband, David Katz, hosted Clinton late Tuesday afternoon for a fundraiser at their Grosse Pointe home. The minimum ticket price of admission was $2,700, while the campaign had been seeking a $50,000 donation for a host sponsorship.

Former Govs. Jim Blanchard and Jennifer Granholm, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein, former state Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Rep. John Conyers were among the Democratic Party dignitaries who attended the fundraiser.

Bernstein said the Clinton fundraiser attracted a cross section of supporters ranging from labor and business leaders to past and present officeholders.

“It was nice because you had a consortium of Democratic leaders from all across the state who were gathering to hear what she had to say,” Bernstein said. “What I liked about it was it just had a lot of diversity, had a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”

Bernstein said Clinton spoke about the importance of the past and Democratic successes such as saving the automobile industry.

“It was an exciting thing to have Hillary Clinton in town,” Whitmer said. “She is an inspiration and she’s going to give voice to a lot of issues that we need a voice given to.”

Ten Republican detractors protested the Clinton fundraiser, holding signs that read “Middle Class Can’t Afford Hillary” and “Exclusive Fundraiser Excludes You and Me.”

“The only people that have access to Hillary Clinton today are people that are paying $2,700 to get into an event,” said Wayne Bradley, the state director for outreach and engagement at the Michigan Republican Party. “She’s not being accessible to everybody. She’s not talking to the media. She’s here strictly on a fundraising mission and here in Detroit we have bigger issues than that.”

Through the first half of the year, Clinton raised $225,534 from 381 donations from Michigan contributors, a Detroit News analysis of campaign finance data shows.

Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. But she faces a primary challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Rhode Island governor and U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.

Bradley said Clinton has not offered specifics on the type of policies she would pursue if elected president.

“She has not been very transparent up to this point about what her plans are,” Bradley said.

Greeted by Blight Busters

At Sweet Potato Sensations, Clinton was greeted by Jamie Warfield, a supervisor at Motor City Blight Busters. Warfield and two other men were dressed in the Blight Busters’ T-shirts and work in the non-profit’s main office across the street on Lahser Road, near the historic Redford Theatre.

“I’ve heard about the Blight Busters,” Clinton told Warfield. “I think you’ve got a new second wind.”

In speaking to reporters, Clinton praised coordinated efforts by governments, civic groups, philanthropic foundations and businesses in tackling Detroit’s housing blight problem.

“That catches my attention,” Clinton said. “Because the more we can bring people back into working on behalf of their own futures and neighborhoods they live in and the communities they’re a part of, that’s what’s going to bring back cities like Detroit.”

Afterwards, Warfield said he did not expect to see Clinton show up at the bakery.

“I would love to have her as president,” Warfield said. “Her spirit is amazing.”

Clinton also was asked by reporters about her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

“I’m going to wait to see what’s in it,” Clinton told reporters. “And I’m going to wait to judge as to whether or not it creates good jobs, whether it protects the jobs we have and whether it’s good for our national security.”

When a bakery employee offered to seat Clinton so her sweet potato cobbler wouldn’t get cold, the former first lady had a quick answer.

“Oh, I’m not eating in front of all of these people,” she said, drawing a roomful of laughter.

After reporters were ushered out of the restaurant, Clinton sat with employees and patrons, ate her cobbler and sampled a sweet potato cheesecake and a black-eyed pea and collard greens soup, co-owner Cassandra Thomas said.

Thomas, her husband and two daughters own the bakery and have been in business for 28 years on Lahser Street near Grand River Avenue.

The bakery has had other politicians visit, but never a candidate for president, Thomas said.

“This was a wonderful surprise today,” she said. “She’s so down to earth and a regular person.”

(517) 371-3660

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed to this report.