Following the New Hampshire primary where he smoked Hillary Clinton by 22 points, Bernie Sanders made a stop in Harlem to visit with Al Sharpton.
The two men hugged at the entrance of Sylvia’s then spent 20 minutes together talking about affirmative action and police misconduct. The meeting was arranged at Sanders’ request, according to The Washington Post.
While Sharpton tweeted about the friendly sit-down (here and here), Sanders’ Twitter feed remained silent on the subject, simply posting a tweet later in the day, saying, “As President, let me be very clear that no one will fight harder to end racism and reform our broken criminal justice system than I will.”
Still, he made no mention of meeting with Sharpton, preferring to tweet about his interview with “The View.” After the meeting, Sanders left without addressing the crowd, leaving that task to Sharpton.
“It is very important that he sent a signal that on the morning after a historic victory — it’s the widest margin we’ve seen in the history of New Hampshire — he would come to Harlem and have breakfast with me,” Sharpton said.
Bernie Needs Black Voters
Sanders lags behind Clinton in support among the black community, and the meeting was clearly an effort to bridge that gap, though it’s not the first. He has reached out to the black community before, interviewing with Ebony magazine last fall and sending a black female campaign advisor to grace the pages of Essence magazine. But now that he’s heading to South Carolina, where he has trailed Clinton by 55 points among blacks, he needs to step up his game.
Sanders’ problem is that he’s from one of the whitest states. Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, and Latinos make up only 6.8 percent of Vermont’s population. While blacks would find most of Sanders’ policies acceptable, many of them just don’t know who he is. He also hasn’t interjected much into the debate around police misconduct. He has stuck to his message about economic inequality—something Black Lives Matter protestors haven’t appreciated. They also didn’t appreciate when he walked out on them at a campaign event.
But Al Sharpton Has a Tarnished Reputation
If Sanders wants to build bridges with blacks, Sharpton might not be the way to go, because the “civil rights leader” doesn’t have the best relationship with people in his own community. Despite being a spokesman for the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, many in the black community see Sharpton as an opportunist who is always angling for personal gain.
In 2014, when Sharpton tried to interject himself into the funeral of Akai Gurley, who was shot dead by a rookie police officer in a housing project in Brooklyn, the family told him to stay away.
Sharpton held a news conference at the time, promising to deliver a eulogy at the wake. But Gurley’s aunt told TMZ: “Al Sharpton came in, put his name on the situation, but has not even made one single call to the parents of Akai.” All Sharpton sees, she said, “is money and political gain and he is turning the tragedy into a circus.”
More recently, in Ferguson, young black protests chanted “F— Al Sharpton!” and said he was a limelight-loving leech on the Black Lives Matter movement. Sharpton responded by calling them stupid. One of the protesters, and founder of New Yorkers Against Bratton, accused Sharpton of wrestling for control of a movement that’s leaving him behind.
If Sanders wants to make connections with black voters, maybe he should stick to Ebony and Essence magazines and stay away from quickie meetings with Al Sharpton in Harlem restaurants.