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Bill Clinton praises Obama during Queens College visit

Visiting a borough that holds “a special place” in his heart, former President Bill Clinton encouraged an enthusiastic Queens College crowd to go to the polls Nov. 4 and elect U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D−Ill.) as the country’s next leader.

“We need to push the rewind button and start the 21st century again and Barack Obama and Joe Biden can do that,” Clinton told the crowd.

The former president said he had not forgotten the Queens Democratic Party being the first local party in the state to endorse his presidency in 1992, when Tom Manton, the late party’s chairman, invited him to speak to the group when he was a long−shot candidate early in the primaries.

Clinton called Queens “a borough that holds a special place in my heart.”

U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Kew Gardens) arranged for Clinton to speak at Queens College.

Clinton said the next president has “three big jobs” to handle: the economic crisis, cutting health care spending and restoring the country’s reputation around the world.

“They got to fix this financial mess,” he said, which includes the high rate of foreclosures. “It’s important that we elect a president who is committed to helping the middle class.”

“Barack Obama proved in the last two debates” that he was capable on economic issues, Clinton said. “Obama understood this three times better [than nominee U.S. Sen. John McCain (R−Ariz.)] and can talk about it.”

Clinton also pointed out that the country spends more on paperwork related to health insurance than it does on providing care.

“We can’t keep spending 16 percent of our income on health care,” he said. “There’s something backwards in this country when we spend $200 million on paperwork.”

He said the next president also needs to “restore America’s standing in the world.”

“We need to bring our troops home from Iraq,” Clinton said to cheers from the Queens College students. “We have to take care of them and we need to build a world with fewer adversaries and more partners.”

While he addressed the Queens College crowd, Clinton’s wife, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D−N.Y.), was at Antun’s in Queens Village for the Queens Democratic Party’s cocktail party.

Clinton acknowledged his support for his wife during the Democratic primaries, where she was embroiled in a tough battle with Obama.

Nonetheless, he urged the crowd to rally behind the Illinois senator.

“Even though my first choice isn’t on the ballot, I think Barack Obama is the best choice we have for president,” he said.

Before leaving with the assistance of a police escort, Clinton greeted adoring fans and signed autographs as supporters snapped photos with their cell phones.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e−mail at hkoplowitz@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 173.

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