President Clinton spoke of racial harmony from the pulpit of a predominantly black church Sunday morning, and met with St. Petersburg leaders in the wake of the Oct. 24 disturbance that erupted after a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager.
"You know after the events of the last week, when we are divided, we defeat ourselves," Clinton told an enthusiastic congregation at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Tampa.
Clinton noted that Lincoln had paraphrased the Bible when he said a divided house cannot stand. "I believe the whole verse says that a city, and a house, divided against itself cannot stand," he said.
"Not Tampa, not St. Petersburg, not Washington, D.C., not the United States of America." It was his only public reference to St. Petersburg.
The president, who stayed overnight in Tampa, had breakfast at his hotel with the Rev. Henry J. Lyons of St. Petersburg, president of the National Baptist Convention USA, the nation's largest black religious organization.
Just before he boarded Air Force One at Tampa International Airport, he spoke for 20 to 30 minutes with St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer about ways to expand economic opportunity in troubled areas of the city. Although Clinton made no specific promises, Fischer said White House chief of staff Leon Panetta, who also sat in, said he would form a task force to see what federal help was available.
Fischer said the talk focused on jobs and economic opportunity. He said he expects to travel to Washington soon, perhaps in the next week, to meet with officials in the departments of Labor and Housing. Tax breaks to create new businesses is one area Fischer said he hopes to discuss.
"We talked about the problems, especially with employment for the age group between 18 and 28 in the minority community," Fischer said. "It was very good. They were very attentive, very supportive. They realize that if it happened in St. Petersburg, it could happen anywhere."
Clinton also spoke in West Palm Beach before leaving the state Sunday. His last stop in Florida, two days before the presidential election, was further evidence he takes seriously his chances of becoming the first Democrat in 20 years to win here.
Speaking to a packed congregation of several hundred in Tampa, Clinton spoke from a historic pulpit that has heard the likes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Justice Thurgood Marshall, Adam Clayton Powell and Jackie Robinson.
Clinton used a story from the gospel to illustrate his philosophy. John 5 tells of the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, known for its healing power. Jesus healed a man who was too disabled to reach the pool.
"No one was left out," the president said. "Even the one who could not get to the pool was given the healing power of the spirit. That is a lesson for us.
"People tell me, well, some people just aren't going to make it," Clinton said. "I say, that's true, but it ought to be their fault, not ours." The congregation murmured assent.
"We can't give anybody a guarantee in life. Even the man crawling toward the pool had to believe. His body wouldn't move, but his mind would," Clinton said. "I don't seek to give anybody a guarantee. But I think everybody ought to have a chance."
Clinton said during his term, more jobs have been created, crime is down, minorities own more businesses and homes and the rate of childhood and elderly poverty is down. He also cited his track record of naming minorities to federal posts.
He noted that he had signed a welfare-reform bill that included time limits for recipients, and the congregation applauded warmly. But churchgoers applauded even more when he promised to try to help them get jobs: "You can't tell people they have to go to work unless there's work for them to find."
Clinton urged his listeners not to "allow our country to be led by those who believe we are better off on our own, and who seek to pursue that path by driving wedges" among different groups of voters.
"There are still too many people who are literally afraid to deal as equals with people who are different from them," Clinton said.
"We know that there are still too many white people who wouldn't feel as comfortable as I do sitting in this church. They read the same Bible you do. They claim the same savior you do. They ought to feel at home here. We've got work to do. And you ought to feel at home in their churches."
After his remarks, Clinton stayed on stage, clapping and singing with the choir.
He was introduced by the church's pastor, the Rev. Leroy Washington Jr., who made no bones about Tuesday's election: "It took eight years of Reaganomics to get us in this bind, so four years is not enough for this president. . . . We will vote for nobody but the ticket of Clinton and Gore."
Also in the church was Gov. Lawton Chiles, who traveled with Clinton, Rep. Sam Gibbons and Jim Davis, the Democratic candidate who is trying to replace Gibbons. He faces Republican Mark Sharpe.
On his return to the airport, Clinton made an impromptu stop on West Shore Boulevard to greet about 60 supporters gathered behind a sign that said, "Give Us 4 Minutes and We'll Give You 4 More Years."
In West Palm Beach, Clinton attended a rally on a field adjacent to the airport. Chiles and Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay said Clinton had been good for Florida, citing as one example the end of dictatorship in Haiti, halting a flow of refugees to the state. The rest of Clinton's day was spent stumping for congressional candidates in New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maine.