A power struggle with New York’s top brass? Sorry, says the civil-rights leader. He was too busy dealing with the White House and far bigger issues.
Rev. Al Sharpton was striding into the West Wing of the White House for a meeting with President Obama on Wednesday when his cellphone rang.
“Al?” the caller asked.
“Yeah,” Sharpton said.
“It’s Bill de Blasio.”
That being the mayor of New York, who was calling to inform Sharpton that New York City Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton was appointing Benjamin Tucker as the NYPD’s new first deputy commissioner. The spot had been offered to Chief of Department Phil Banks, who turned it down and retired. Banks is black, as is Tucker.
“I wanted you to know,” de Blasio said by Sharpton’s recollection.
“He’s already appointing him?” Sharpton asked.
“Yeah,” de Blasio replied.
“Good,” Sharpton said.
Sharpton noted that otherwise some of their mutual detractors might suggest that he had played a role in the appointment.
“They’ll probably say it anyway,” de Blasio said.
“By the way, I am walking into the West Wing,” Sharpton said. “I will tell the president hello.”
“We’ve both ended up where our lives have taken us,” de Blasio said.
De Blasio went back to running the city. Sharpton proceeded inside to join three other national civil-rights leaders in an hour-long meeting with the president. They were to discuss Obama’s plans for what Sharpton describes as “his fourth quarter.”
Up in New York, some detractors were indeed suggesting that Sharpton had helped determine who would be the next first deputy police commissioner. Sharpton would later emphasize to The Daily Beast that he neither possesses nor desires such power.
“People think I’m running the NYPD,” Sharpton would say. “It’s like a demotion to me.”
Sharpton would add that many New Yorkers, being New Yorkers, consider him a city leader. That includes another recent caller.
“Al,” this caller began, by Sharpton’s recollection.
“Yeah?” Sharpton said.
“Governor,” the caller said.
“Governor who?” Sharpton asked.
“Andrew,” the caller said.
That being Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York.
“There’s 50 governors,” Sharpton told him.
New York may be the center of the known world, but it is also the center from which Sharpton’s aspirations extend beyond the Hudson River to that wild and crazy land known as America. His ambitions have always been national, at least as far back as his first visit to the White House back in 1982, when the Godfather of Soul took him to see the president of the United States.
Sharpton had then been seeking to have Martin Luther King’s birthday declared a national holiday and James Brown had agreed to arrange a meeting with President Reagan. Brown had been Sharpton’s mentor and role model, even taking him to his hairdresser’s and saying, “Make him look like me!”
In exchange for the meeting with Reagan, Brown got Sharpton to make a promise. Sharpton agreed that he would maintain their shared hairstyle as long as Brown was alive, a pledge that must have had its trying moments during the years when the all-natural Afro assumed a political meaning.
By the time of Brown’s death in 2006, Sharpton had made the style his own. He also had adopted a new role model, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who turned Operation PUSH into a national organization and became a TV commentator on CNN. Sharpton did not name his organization the New York Action Network. The name is the National Action Network (NAN.) And he is a commentator on MSNBC.
As the head of NAN, Sharpton met with Obama the day after Democrats’ disastrous midterm elections. The heads of the NAACP, the Urban League, and the Legal Defense Fund were also there to discuss immigration and other pressing issues. Obama seemed as unperturbed as ever, even by the previous day’s Republican sweep.
“No ups, no downs” Sharpton says. “Just keep it even.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast – Michael Daly