|The Rev. Calvin Butts said race was not a factor in his decision.|
NEW YORK - Senator Hillary Clinton accepted the endorsement of an influential Harlem clergyman yesterday, while praising Senator Barack Obama, her chief rival for the Democratic nomination for president.
"I have the highest regard and admiration for my friend and colleague Senator Barack Obama," Clinton said outside Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church. "He is an extraordinary human being with enormous gifts and many contributions to our country and to the world. I am honored to be running with him."
The church's pastor, the Rev. Calvin Butts, said he had fielded calls from people who wondered why he, a black man, was endorsing a white woman instead of Obama.
"I would like to make one thing very clear," Butts said. "This was not and is not and will not become a race-based decision for me. And I hope that it has not and will not become a race-based decision for you, either.
"I respect Senator Obama," he said. "I applaud him, and I love him as my brother. But a vote for Hillary is not a vote against Barack Obama or any community."
As Clinton and Butts spoke, a few dozen sign-waving Obama and Clinton supporters competed with chants of "Harlem for Obama!" and "Hillary!"
Clinton said earlier that she was pleased to attend services at Abyssinian on the eve of the holiday celebrating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom she heard speak as a member of her church group in 1963.
"It was a transforming experience for me," she said. She received a standing ovation at the church. Butts, a longtime power broker who also is president of the State University of New York's College at Old Westbury, stressed Clinton's ability to get things done. "A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote to elect someone who has proven through time to me and to this community and this country that she has the experience to make things happen," he said.