NEW YORK (AP) _ Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told black leaders on Friday that the Bush administration's treatment of blacks and the poor in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was part of a pattern of government failures.
``The abuses that have gone on in the last six years, I don't think we know the half of it,'' Clinton said, her voice inflected with a singsong Southern twang that she often uses in front of black audiences.
She cited the administration's slow response to the devastation of Katrina, which left thousands of poor and black Gulf Coast residents homeless.
``When I walk into the Oval Office in 2009, I'm afraid I'm going to lift up the rug and I'm going to see so much stuff under there. You know, what is it about us always having to clean up after people?'' she said.
Clinton spoke to the annual convention of the National Action Network, a civil rights group founded by Rev. Al Sharpton. The four-day gathering, dubbed the Sharpton primary, has attracted all the major Democratic candidates as they court black voters, one of the party's key constituency.
Sen. Barack Obama addresses the group on Saturday.
All the candidates have tailored their speeches to the audience, and Clinton was no exception.
The New York senator said civil rights leaders like Jesse Jackson and Marian Wright Edelman _ Clinton's mentor and president of the Children's Defense Fund _ had paved the way for a woman to seek the presidency.
Both leaders were on the dais as she spoke.
``I wasn't on the front lines of the civil rights movement the way Jesse and Marian were but I'm a beneficiary of it,'' Clinton said. ``I'm standing here today running for president because of the changes people like them brought our country.''
For his part, Sharpton argued that it was natural for Democrats to want to address the conference and it was no different than GOP contenders wooing conservative constituencies.
``Why is it so different if Senator Clinton, or Senator Obama or Senator Biden would come to constituencies that are affiliated with Rev. Jackson or me?'' he asked.
When Republicans court conservative leaders, Sharpton said, ``It's considered an inclusive thing to do. But when (Democrats) are, they're demeaned as kissing rings and placating and bowing.''
For Clinton, her party's 2008 front-runner, it was a day to court both black voters and women.
Earlier, she traveled to New Jersey to deliver a speech at Rutgers University on women and public leadership. She also met privately with C. Vivian Stringer, the coach of the women's basketball team that had been subject to racially and sexually charged comments by radio host Don Imus. The remarks provoked a public outcry, and Imus was fired last week.
At Rutgers, Clinton proclaimed that the university ``has a chance to be the leader of this teachable moment'' on standing up to discrimination.
``Will you be willing to speak up and say, 'Enough is enough,' when women or minorities or the powerless are marginalized or degraded?'' Clinton asked about 700 people at a university forum on women and public leadership.
The event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Eagleton Institute of Politics and the 35th anniversary of the institute's Center for American Women and Politics.