NEW YORK (AP) — Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Mayor Bill de Blasio have come under fire over a comedy skit that some people feel was racially insensitive.
Clinton, just days before the crucial New York primary, was a surprise guest Saturday during the mayor’s performance at the annual Inner Circle show, a black-tie charity gala that’s the city’s answer to the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner, took the stage to applause and, in a scripted scene, teased de Blasio, a fellow Democrat who managed her successful 2000 U.S. Senate campaign, for taking so long to endorse her presidential bid.
“Sorry, Hillary,” de Blasio replied, “I was running on CP time.”
At first, that seemed to be a reference to a racial stereotype, colored people time. Leslie Odom Jr., a black actor who plays Aaron Burr in the Broadway smash “Hamilton,” was onstage with Clinton and de Blasio, who are white, and pretended to be offended.
“I don’t like jokes like that, Bill,” Odom said.
But then Clinton interjected: “Cautious politician time. I’ve been there.”
Many in the room where it happened, which was filled with New York politicians, power brokers and reporters, laughed at the joke. But it soon made its way around social media and drew some scornful media coverage.
The Daily News blared “Skit for Brains” on its Tuesday front page. Salon called the skit “cringe worthy.” And New York magazine made reference to the mayor’s black spouse, asking, “Does your wife, Chirlane (McCray), know about this joke?”
De Blasio, whose two multiracial children identify as black, downplayed the controversy.
“It was clearly a staged event,” he told CNN on Monday. “I think people are missing the point here.”
Mayoral aides added that the skit was not meant to offend and pointed out that it was far from the only risque joke during a night on which reporters put on a show to roast politicians and then the mayor returns the favor.
Clinton pointed a finger at de Blasio.
“Well, look, it was Mayor de Blasio’s skit,” she told Cosmopolitan.com. “He has addressed it, and I will really defer to him because it is something that he’s already talked about.”
At the White House, spokesman Josh Earnest deflected questions about the propriety of the joke, saying he hadn’t seen it, but he praised Clinton and de Blasio for the “commitment that they’ve shown over the course of their career to justice and civil rights.”
The flap comes at a poor time for Clinton, who has enjoyed deep support from black voters during the previous primaries and is banking on their support again in New York’s April 19 primary to ward off a challenge from Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. A loss for Clinton in her home state could upend the Democratic race, though she would still have a significant delegate lead.