- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

The Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday threatened to again seek the Democratic presidential nomination unless current contenders, including four senators he visited on Capitol Hill, commit to focusing attention on civil rights issues.

Mr. Sharpton, a New York-based activist and perennial candidate for various posts, said strong attention must be placed on affordable housing, access to wealth, retirement security, health care and education.

“If somebody picks up a strong agenda, I won’t. But if not, maybe, and we’ll see or we should see by late spring or the summer if someone does,” Mr. Sharpton said.

Mr. Sharpton’s comments came as he visited Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Barack Obama of Illinois and Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, the four senators seeking the party’s nomination.

Mrs. Clinton after speaking with Mr. Sharpton said she is in lock step to deal with “21st-century civil rights issues” such as those Mr. Sharpton is backing.

“These are issues important to our country and … an agenda that I support,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama are the front-runners in recent polls and considered the two strongest candidates by most political pundits. Many pundits think that the pair will need to court Mr. Sharpton’s endorsement and his help on the campaign trail to secure votes from black voters.

Standing next to the New York minister in front of a painting of renowned Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Mr. Obama said the two men have benefited from the movement Mr. Marshall energized when, as a lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he won the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that barred segregation in schools.

“Hopefully the work that we do will benefit generations to come; he wants the candidates to speak to the issues of the dispossessed. And I think he is right to do that,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Sharpton entered the 2004 presidential race to put issues of police brutality and racial profiling, poverty, limited access to education and health care at the forefront and to denounce the war in Iraq. He said far too many Democrats were “acting like elephants in donkey jackets,” referring to the overwhelming support by the party’s members of Congress to authorize the war.

While most pundits wrote off his campaign, he placed third in the polls in South Carolina and second in the District’s nonbinding primary. He also gave what was regarded as one of the best speeches at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.

But after the election, Mr. Sharpton began a new campaign working with evangelical ministers to expand their activism with Republicans against abortion and homosexual “marriage” to also address such issues as poverty, equal opportunity and rebuilding New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“It was shocking, beyond shocking, that the president did not mention New Orleans or Katrina in the State of the Union address, because they are members of the Union still suffering daily with issues of poverty and despair,” he said.

Mr. Sharpton said that this campaign is the reason why his first stop in Washington yesterday was at the office of Mr. Dodd, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

He said Mr. Dodd “is in the best position to work on” the minister’s concerns about such issues as access to capital, diversity among heads of pension funds and the practice of redlining — where minority neighborhoods pay more for goods and services, particularly bank interest on loans.

“Those issues are ones that he as the committee chairman can affect now, and also out on the campaign trail as a presidential candidate, so that was a very important meeting,” Mr. Sharpton said.

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