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Downcast Wall Street investors whose fears had been focused on a slowing economy demanded that Reverend Jesse Jackson curtail his blistering attacks on George W. Bush. These financiers arranged the controversial phone call that Jackson made to the "president-select" shortly after Al Gore conceded the race, key business figures told the Voice.
Corporate moguls contribute heavily to Jackson's Wall Street Project, an economic-development program intended to persuade New York's financial leaders to steer big-business bucks to minority communities and entrepreneurs. The Project is, in fact, the Wall Street office of Jackson's Rainbow-PUSH Coalition. "These guys on Wall Street aren't Democrats or Republicansthey're capitalists," says one investor. "When they saw the tide turning, some of Reverend Jackson's top contributors put a call in to him."
Jackson did not return Voice calls for comment.
Even before the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled in favor of Bush on the night of December 12, Jackson was promising to "take to the streets" with a "civil rights explosion." Prior to his phone call, Jackson had compared the Supreme Court's ruling to the 1857 Dred Scott decision in which the Court declared that blacks, slave or free, did not have the rights of citizens. After the Supreme Court ruling, Jackson said he rejected Bush as the successor to President Clinton "with every bone in my body and every ounce of moral strength in my soul." He also said that "to lose by racial targeting is dishonorable."
With Wall Street having factored in a Bush victory, sources in the financial community say, it was only a matter of time before major movers and shakers muzzled Jackson and other Gore loyalists crying thievery. "These contributors told Reverend Jackson, 'You better hold this down because we won't back you anymore if you are adverse to the new administration in Washington,' " a financial insider claims. "They said, 'We certainly can't give you the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and all these other perks if you are out there taking shots at a president we now have to lobby to get what we want.' My understanding is that they told Reverend Jackson, 'You better call Bush.' "
The source adds that one business figure also told Jackson he would call Bush "and tell him to take your call." On December 14, Bush took a call from the civil rights leader. They talked about "healing the nation and bringing it together," according to a Bush aide. Bush offered to meet with Jackson "for further discussions on election reform" in the aftermath of allegations that black voters were unfairly treated in some Florida voting precincts. The next day, Jackson, appearing on NBC's Today show, said of Bush: "It is his burden to bring some closure to that [allegation] in some fair and open way."
That Jackson could be pressured by Wall Street investors to scale down his rhetoric intrigued a civic leader who is a close associate. "Why would Jesse make the call? Why would Bush accept the call?" he asks. Without confirming that is exactly what happened, this Jackson supporter adds, "There must be somebody who is bigger than both of them to put that together."
Some in the black activist community are steaming over Jackson's phone call. They use words like "sellout" and "race merchant" and "two-faced" to describe the nation's best-known civil rights activist. One even asked, "Who's betraying Dr. Martin Luther King?" Jackson, one incensed black leader declares, believes that the civil rights movement marches to his dictates.
None of the Congressional Black Caucus members or any civil rights leaders contacted by the Voice was aware that Jackson had planned to talk to Bush. Asserts one exasperated politician: "He didn't touch base with anyone." A source says that Florida congresswoman Corrine Brown was particularly outraged by Jackson's "shameful turnaround," which seemed to dampen anti-Bush sentiments built up during the postelection crisis. Brown and Jackson had filed a lawsuit claiming that blacks in Duval County were denied the right to vote because they didn't have registration or photo-ID cards, and were not permitted to present other forms of identification allowed under state law. "She didn't know that he was going to make the call," the source insists. "Just out of nowhere he makes this call. Why? He had to protect his own interest."
What would Al Sharpton do if Bush calls him? "I would not meet with Bush alone," says the leader of the Harlem-based National Action Network. "There has to be an agenda that the black collective agrees with. Clearly, I'm not looking to be part of the Bush administration."
The black nationalist community, traditional Jackson foes, is abuzz with condemnations of what it views as Jackson's latest political perfidy. "He is a continuing embarrassment to the race," declares Louis Clayton Jones, publisher and editor of the Atlanta-based Cyberdrum, complaining in a recent e-mail to Elombe Brath, leader of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition headquartered in Harlem. "Don't be surprised if Bush appoints him to some meaningless post in his administration."
Jones, an attorney who was once an influential figure in New York City black activist politics, is a former ally of Jackson. "I have been in the streets with Jesse," he recalls. "I have represented Jesse in the courts of the City of New York. I have watched Jesse sabotage grassroots attempts to bring equity in hiring practices to the masses of New York City. I know, firsthand, what Jesse will do when faced with a choice between principle and personal gain." No one, adds Jones, should be surprised that Jackson suddenly has warmed to Bush.