Ground Hog

Jesse Jackson Raids the Graveyard—On Al Sharpton’s Watch

Al Sharpton swore that Jesse Jackson's foray into New York for a detente with Rudy Giuliani caught him by surprise. He said that the day before the primary, his mentor called him.

According to Sharpton aide J.D. Livingstone, who hooked up a three-way conversation, Jackson said he was coming to the city and wanted to "touch base" with Sharpton when he arrived. After Jackson inquired about the well-being of the activist's wife, Cathy, and teenage daughters, Dominique and Ashley, Sharpton told him that the girls had been consoling a survivor, 12-year-old Travis Boyd, whose mother is presumed dead in the World Trade Center rubble. Livingstone recalls Sharpton suggesting that Jackson reach out to some African American aid workers who were toiling near Ground Zero or engage in a range of relief efforts in mostly black neighborhoods. Again, Jackson promised to reach out to his protégé.

At about eleven o'clock on the morning of the primary, Livingstone put through a call from Jackson to Sharpton on his cell phone. Livingstone says Jackson seemed eager to let Sharpton in on his New York itinerary. He allegedly told Sharpton he was scheduled to speak at an elementary school and afterward would swing by the Red Cross to meet some of its officials. He then asked where Sharpton would be that afternoon. "Sharpton said he would be in the streets campaigning for Ferrer and Bill Thompson, and later he would tape a show for the Fox network," Livingstone recalls.

Upon leaving the Fox studios in downtown Manhattan, Sharpton was confronted by a reporter who pointed out that while Sharpton was accusing Rudy Giuliani of exploiting the World Trade Center tragedy by seeking to extend his term in office, Jesse Jackson was at Ground Zero, standing next to Giuliani and praising his leadership. "Doesn't this smack of Rudy being accepted by a lot of people in the civil rights community?" the reporter asked.

Sharpton stiffened. "He was in shock," an aide claims. Sharpton told the reporter that Giuliani should be commended but that he was not prepared to sweep eight years of the mayor's ironfisted rule over his African American constituents under the wreckage of the twin towers. "I remember saying, 'Rudy seems sensitive now because he has been insensitive to our community for eight long years,' " Sharpton confirms. "I said, 'We had gotten so used to the mean and insensitive Rudy.' "

As a disgruntled Sharpton resumed campaigning, Livingstone again connected one of Jackson's aides to Sharpton. This is how Livingstone recalls the conversation:

"You know that Reverend Jackson is still trying to touch base with you later today?" the unidentified aide said.

"Get in touch with me?" Sharpton screamed. "He just left Ground Zero with Rudy Giuliani! How could y'all do this?"

"What do you mean?" the Jackson aide shot back. "He got involved with the American Red Cross. They brought him there."

"Do you realize that Giuliani has snubbed Carl McCall, C. Virginia Fields, and other people that were critical of him? They were not allowed to speak at the memorial at Yankee Stadium. He knows that Giuliani is under attack by me. This only gives Giuliani cover. Is Jesse mindful of the fact that Giuliani is trying to use us, one against the other?"

The Jackson aide, according to Livingstone, said Jackson would contact Sharpton later to offer an explanation. Jackson called as Sharpton sped to the Puck Building to revel in Ferrer's win. According to Muhammad, who was traveling with Sharpton, the two Baptist preachers argued bitterly. This is how Sharpton aides reconstructed the details of that showdown:

"I think you absolutely violated our territorial integrity by being there with Giuliani," Sharpton said.

"Al, everybody's coming to see him, heads of nations," Jackson explained.

"That's not the point!" Sharpton shouted. "I think this is an absolute outrage. I'm going to deal with both of y'all!"

"We don't need to get into a spat over this," Jackson replied.

Sharpton, the aide recalls, was inconsolable.

"You always do this thing," Sharpton charged. "You come in here and screw us and then turn around and act like you don't understand. I feel absolutely violated by this. Why would you give cover to Rudy Giuliani on a day like this?"

"I'll call you later," Jackson pleaded. "That's not the way it is. You need to defend me."

"Defend you?" Sharpton bellowed. "I'm the one out there telling people that Giuliani did us wrong."

"We'll talk later," Jackson said.

Muhammad says that Ferrer's supporters sensed the rage in Sharpton as he entered the ballroom of the Puck Building. "One by one, they came up to Reverend Sharpton, asking him, 'What was that all about?' and 'Is Jesse Jackson crazy?' "

Jesse Jackson may have believed that he pulled off a public relations coup by being the first prominent black leader to visit Ground Zero. But unbeknownst to Jackson and many in the media, Sharpton, absent the fanfare, beat Jackson to the tragic scene.

On September 16, the first Sunday after the attack, police officers sympathetic to Sharpton guided him and attorney Michael Hardy through several checkpoints for an hour-long visit to Ground Zero. "Police officers and firefighters were surprised," recalls Sharpton, who organized blood drives and counseling. "Some asked for my autograph and took pictures with me to show their families that I was concerned about them."

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