How Al Sharpton Became President Obama’s “Go-to-Man” on Race

Obama-Sharpton alliance

Obama dispatched Valerie Jarrett in 2008 to woo the reverend.

Near the end of 2007, Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett met with Al Sharpton in New York City and began to cement a relationship that would eventually make the inflammatory activist the president’s “go-to man” on race, according to multiple sources.

The backdrop to the incipient Obama-Sharpton alliance was the then-senator’s 2008 presidential campaign, which still hadn’t locked away the black vote, and the political cross-currents created by two other controversial reverends, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright.

That tentative relationship has now grown into a full-blown partnership that has vastly increased the once-shunned Sharpton’s influence and prestige and elevated him into a key White House ally at a time of heightened tension over policing and race.

In 2007, media outlets no less prestigious than the New York Times, CNN, National Public Radio, and Time questioned whether Obama, with his multiracial and perhaps post-racial narrative, could truly count on securing the black vote. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton was pressuring African-American leaders to support her, especially before the primary in heavily black South Carolina.

So it was with great annoyance that the Obama campaign read in September that Jesse Jackson had criticized Obama for not speaking out enough about the controversial Jena Six case in Louisiana.

(If you’ll recall, racial tensions rose at Jena High School after three nooses appeared swinging from campus branches in August 2006, an apparent threat to a black student who wanted to sit under the tree in an area white students often occupied. Several fights had broken out between white and black students that fall, but when six black students beat up a white student in December, they were charged with attempted second-degree murder, though the victim’s injuries were only superficial. Outrage about the severity of the charges ensued.)

Jackson said Obama had not adequately weighed in and was “acting like he’s white,” adding that “if I were a candidate, I’d be all over Jena.”

And as it turned out, from her days in Chicago, Jarrett already “hated Jesse Jackson,” a source close to Sharpton tells me. “Obama needed a legitimate black voice from the civil-rights community,” the source adds. “Jesse had made disparaging comments about Obama, [so] Jesse got sidelined. Sharpton is the next person in line.”

Brian Mathis, a media-shy New York financier who had attended law school with Obama and raised money for his campaign, helped open communications between Jarrett and the reverend, sources close to Sharpton say. Around December 2007, they say, Jarrett met with Sharpton to talk politics in New York; some place the meeting at the exclusive Grand Havana Room cigar club on the 39th floor of a Fifth Avenue skyscraper.

Sharpton disputes their account, telling NRO it is “unequivocally untrue” that Jarrett courted him for the Obama campaign. “I had already had a developing dialogue with [Obama], and he even spoke at [National Action Network’s] 2007 convention in April,” Sharpton tells me. He adds: “I’ve known Ms. Jarrett as introduced to me by the president. . . . I don’t remember ever meeting her in the Grand Havana Room. Does she smoke cigars?”

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SOURCE: National Review
Jillian Kay Melchior

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