Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, seeking to broaden his appeal to black voters, met over tea with the Rev. Al Sharpton on Wednesday morning at a Harlem soul-food restaurant.
Sanders greeted the activist preacher with a hug and left without making public remarks. But Sharpton told reporters afterward that “I asked him very bluntly” about affirmative action, police misconduct, and the tainted-water crisis in the black-majority city of Flint, Michigan. Sharpton did not describe Sanders’ answers.
“Senator Sanders coming here this morning further makes it clear that we will not be ignored,” Sharpton said after the New Hampshire primary winner departed from Sylvia’s Restaurant, a favorite stop for visiting politicians.
Sharpton said he and other activists would meet next Thursday with Sanders’ rival, Hillary Clinton, and won’t make an endorsement until afterward.
“My concern is that in January of next year, for the first time in American history, a black family will be moving out of the White House. I do not want black concerns to be moved out with them,” Sharpton said.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, sat down with Sharpton on the morning after defeating former Secretary of State Clinton in New Hampshire by more than 20 points — 60 percent to 38 percent.
Both Democratic candidates are expected to step up their efforts to win backing from black voters as the primary-campaign battle shifts to states such as South Carolina with more diverse populations.
Seated at a corner table facing Malcolm X Boulevard and a photo of Sharpton dining with then-U.S. Senator Barack Obama, the men whispered as Sharpton’s and Sanders’ campaign aides ushered in groups of news photographers to document the meeting.
“Our votes must be earned. Nobody can deliver our votes. None of us are kingpins,” Sharpton said afterward.
The meeting lasted about 25 minutes. Onlookers chanted “feel the Bern,” and “Bern baby Bern” as Sharpton walked the candidate to a waiting SUV. When Sanders was gone, a supporter of Republican hopeful Donald Trump held up a sign: “My Black Vote Goes to Trump.”
The once rotund Sharpton, who follows a rigorous diet, added: “Out of respect to my new physique, the senator did not eat this morning. He had tea with me.”
At Sharpton’s side afterward was two supporters, state Sen. Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) and Benjamin Jealous, a former president of the NAACP, who called Sanders “the best candidate we have.”
Hours later, Clinton’s campaign convened a conference call between reporters and three prominent black supporters, including U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) and Hazel Dukes, a former NAACP national president. The trio touted Clinton’s record and knocked that of Sanders, including his past support of gun rights.
Jeffries said Sanders has been “missing in action” on issues important to black people.
Asked about Sanders’ history of activism, including participating in Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington in 1963, Dukes said, “thousands of people walked in Washington.”
“It’s good to have new friends,” Jeffries said. “I would prefer to have a true friend.”