The 'Wrongs' of 'Mr. Civil Rights'

Why Jesse Jackson's Political Comeback Seems Doomed

You disrespected me, my pulpit and my people. I had to publicly apologize to my congregation on Sunday for my poor judgement in allowing that kind of rally to be held in the Sanctuary in my absence. I promised them it would never happen again as long as I am Pastor. . . . I relented when Al reported to me that Judith Price suggested that once the service began, the media could take pictures without audio and then be excused. Instead, it became a circus with photographers standing on the pews in our Sanctuary. The live broadcast reinforced the image in the general community that people of African ancestry have little sense of morality.

How crass of Charlie Rangel, in light of your fathering a child outside of your marriage, declaring again and again from my pulpit, Get over it! My personal credibility and that of my Church has been terribly scarred by all that transpired last Tuesday as a prelude to your Wall Street Project. You have created so much pain for all clergy persons. . . . .

The bottom line is that you cannot help yourself. Your addiction to the need of media attention seems to be fatal and you have fallen into the practice of using people for your advantage and personal aggrandizement. For example, with all the risk of allowing you to come to Canaan, you have not even had enough grace to call and thank us for opening our doors to your questionable purposes. I nixed the choir business and you arrive with the so-called Soul Stirrers, who sing for forty minutes in violation of what was agreed upon. I suppose I should not be surprised since the only time I have heard from you in the last ten years is when you wanted something.

After reading the letter, Jackson called Sharpton. An aide says Jackson cautioned Sharpton that certain forces would try to play them against each other. In fact, some of those forces were inside Sharpton's own National Action Network. Anti-Jackson cabals began to urge Sharpton to shun his self-destructing friend, continue to build on his gains in the national civil rights arena, and focus attention on deciding whether to run for mayor.

Walker's damaging letter, according to Jackson watchers, has hurt Jackson's image among prominent black clergy, who have called on him in the past to mediate racial strife in their cities. But the biggest political blow to Jackson was the outright rejection of his offer to go to Cincinnati to try to end four days of rioting over the April 7 shooting of Timothy Thomas, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer. The slaying sparked the city's worst outbreak of racial violence since the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Black church and civil rights leaders, Cincinnati activists claim, told Jackson to stay away as they welcomed other prominent figures like Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Two days after Mfume's arrival, Jackson made another desperate attempt to appeal to influential black leaders in Cincinnati. A source says that Jackson reached out to Reverend H.L. Harvey at the New Friendship Baptist Church on Glorious Saturday, pleading for a "ghetto pass." But Harvey told Jackson that the pulpit belonged to Reverend Al Sharpton, whom he had invited to deliver an Easter Sunday homily.

"It'd be good to have you, Reverend Jackson, but we got Al Sharpton, and the youths want Al Sharpton," a church member overheard Harvey telling Jackson. This insider later found out that Jackson snapped that Sharpton was in Sudan on a fact-finding mission concerning child slavery in that war-torn African country and thus would be unable to attend.

"No, Reverend Sharpton cut short his trip," the source says Harvey replied. "He will be here in the morning."

To civil rights insiders, Cincinnati was another telltale sign that Jackson was weakening politically. "He never gets called in? Mfume is there? Sharpton is there? No Jackson?" asks a Jackson supporter. "He couldn't find anyone to invite him. No one I've talked to could remember the last time Jesse Jackson was barred from injecting himself in a major racial crisis. He was always in the thick of things."

A reportedly embarrassed Jackson next offered to go to China to seek the release of 24 U.S. military spies and their crippled plane. But Jackson had been telling reporters the Bush administration should apologize if that was what it took to free the crew. Colin Powell broke the news to Jackson: No thanks.

Some Sharpton supporters at the National Action Network argue that Jackson may never recover from the back-to-back political knockdowns he has suffered, and say it is time for him to pass the baton to their leader. "Reverend Jackson has been around for 30 years, but a guy who came on the national stage three years ago wearing a jogging suit is now considered the No. 3 black leader," notes a Sharpton strategist. "It is obvious that Reverend Jackson is damaged goods. While Reverend Jackson is being told to stay out of Cincinnati and Beijing, Sharpton is summoned to Cincinnati. There are no other recognizable national black leaders who do what Jackson used to do. Not Mfume. Not Martin Luther King III. Who else is there?"

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