Do It My Way

The First Lady may not have the belly for a street fight with Rudy Giuliani. Enter Al Sharpton.

If Ickes had contacted Sharpton during his fit of "black rage," according to the aide, Sharpton would have told him off and hung up on him.

That's how the miffed activist allegedly treated Bill Lynch when the veteran Democratic operative tried to get Sharpton to stop bad-mouthing Mrs. Clinton on national TV and in the press.

Quarreling broke out last month after Sharpton intensified his public sniping at Mrs. Clinton. When he expressed his indignation at her in an interview with The New Republic (saying that "at some point [Mrs. Clinton] is gonna have to deal with people like me"), the White House allegedly dispatched Sharpton's old mentor, Reverend W. Franklin Richardson of the powerful National Baptist Convention, on a mission to muzzle the sound-bite king.

Although Sharpton confirms that Richardson contacted him about his comments in the article, he directed a Voice reporter to an aide to discuss the details of their conversation.

"Buddy, I got a call from Washington, and people said to me, 'Just tell Al to be cool,"' the aide quotes Richardson as telling Sharpton.

The aide says Richardson advised Sharpton "not to make a public issue" out of the fact that Mrs. Clinton, as the magazine put it, has not yet kissed Sharpton's ring. Mrs. Clinton's people need time "to work this thing out, just like the president has to work things out when Jesse Jackson gets involved" in the Democratic Party's business, Richardson added.

The aide claims that Sharpton was tempted to explain to his old friend that Bill Clinton's criticism of Jackson during the 1992 presidential race for associating with the then controversial raptivist Sister Souljah partly explains why he's being so tough on Mrs. Clinton. But Sharpton never did.

"Bill Clinton went to Jesse Jackson's convention and attacked Sister Souljah and Jesse for inviting Sister Souljah," the aide recalls. "That embarrassing moment left a lump in the throat of many people in the activist L community."

Sharpton, the aide claims, fears that Mrs. Clinton will pull a similar stunt and criticize his alliance with controversial black leaders such as the Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan and Farrakhan's former spokesman, Khallid Abdul Muhammad.

"The question that many people are asking is, 'Is Hillary going to play off the black community on Al Sharpton like her husband did Jesse?' The only way for her to make the black community understand she's not going to play that polarizing act is by coming clean with Reverend Sharpton."

According to the aide, shortly after Richardson importuned Sharpton, Lynch followed up with a phone call, reiterating Mrs. Clinton's advisers' stance on his irritating analysis of her "nonrelationship" with New York's African American community. The aide says he was in Sharpton's office when the call came in.

"Reverend Sharpton told me Lynch said that he was talking to people in the campaign about Reverend Sharpton's importance and that Reverend Sharpton should wait till Hillary finishes deciding whether or not she's running," he remembers.

The conversation allegedly got heated when Sharpton asked Lynch why Mrs. Clinton seemed to be listening to other, less influential political players and wasn't reaching out to him. "Reverend Sharpton was upset," the aide recalls. "He was shouting, telling Lynch if Hillary is talking to Tom, Dick, and Harry, she's gotta talk to us."

Sharpton refused to curtail his criticism of the first lady, vowing, "I'm gonna be very public about it."

Sharpton continued to harangue Mrs. Clinton for not including predominantly black communities like Harlem in her so-called "listening tour" of New York. After a local TV station carried Sharpton's comment at the NAACP's recent convention in Manhattan that Mrs. Clinton was taking black voter support for granted, Lynch allegedly contacted Sharpton a second time.

"Rev. says Lynch said, 'Man, it's all over TV,"' recalls a Sharpton operative, who has acted as an intermediary between both figures and was present when Lynch called.

The operative says the intensity of the conversation suggested that Lynch is under tremendous pressure to put a stop to the pillorying. "You guys will never give me orders!" he recalls Sharpton yelling. "You're probably telling her y'all got me under control, and you don't have me under control. No one calls my shots but the people that work with me. Let us be clear, you all didn't run me for Senate or mayor or get the votes I got. I respect you guys, but I'm going to publicly call on Hillary Clinton to be accountable, just like I've done with every other Democrat that I supported or haven't supported."

When Lynch argued that the Clintons' invitation to Sharpton to attend the White House ceremony for the Yankees was a sign that Mrs. Clinton was reaching out to him, the aide says Sharpton retorted, "My idea of reaching out is to discuss issues. I don't need to see the Yankees and I've been going to the White House for the past 20 years with James Brown. I'm concerned with whether Hillary will be coming to my house."

The conversation ended when Sharpton declared, "We have nothing else to talk about."

One sweltering July morning, after he's cooled off, the "street fighter" rocks back in a lazy boy in his second-floor office overlooking Madison Avenue in Harlem, looming bigger and blacker in a brash $800 three-button suit custom-designed and modeled for GQ magazine.

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