Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Rev. Al Sharpton Is Here for Chicago—Now That Winter’s Over

The TV and radio host says he postponed his Chicago sojourn while the cold weather kept people off the streets.

Rev. Al Sharpton, left, and Isiah Thomas, right, visit with students at Frazier International Magnet School in Chicago on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013. Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

I wrote last week about what appeared to me to be activist and TV star Al Sharpton’s broken pledge to Chicago. He had promised to use his fame and persuasive powers to spotlight gun violence and brainstorm solutions to a scourge that reared its bloated, ugly head this warm weekend, leaving four dead and 33 wounded.

Brooklyn-born and reared—now a resident of the Upper West Side—Sharpton, 59, tends to trigger extreme reactions. With President Obama and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio  among the luminaries speaking at a Manhattan hotel during Sharpton’s annual National Action Network convention last week, and with both men expected to sing Sharpton’s praises, I thought it the right time to note that Sharpton’s Chicago work seemed to be all hat and no cattle. I described the Rev. Al  as leaving a “toddler-sized footprint” here. 

Sharpton’s spokesperson, Jacky Johnson, emailed me last Tuesday, one day before the convention’s official start, that her boss was too busy to answer my questions about why Chicago seemed to have fallen off his priority list. She suggested that I follow up, and I did earlier today. It wasn’t long before Johnson called me with Sharpton on the line.

Sharpton blamed the weather for his underwhelming presence here.

“We had started weekly visits in the winter,” he explained. “The weather made that problematical…. No one was on the street; there was no one to talk to.” He told me that leaders in Chicago who had agreed to work with him, warned him, “If [you] come after Christmas, you’ll be wasting [our] efforts because the weather has been prohibitive to outside street activities.”

He assured me that he was still renting an apartment on Washington Blvd. on Chicago’s West Side. 

He also told me that he would be working with the Mayor on the issue of “gun violence.” I asked him if he has meetings set with Rahm Emanuel. “We are reaching out to the mayor,” he answered. “We have not set it up yet.” 

The plan to revisit Chicago was formulated, he said, during the New York convention when he met with two Chicagoans: the Rev. Dr. Marshall Elijah Hatch, Sr., pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church; and Maureen Forte, a former teacher, union official, activist and radio personality, president of the Chicago chapter of Sharpton’s National Action Network.  

In search of a few specifics on what to expect, I called Forte, but she did not answer my voice mail in time to include in this post. (I’ll add details should she respond with any.)

Sharpton told me that he’ll be announcing his plans this Tuesday, on both his national radio show (airing weekdays, noon to three on WVON here) and on his evening MSNBC television show (airs at 5 pm here). He added that he’ll be devoting “segments” of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation to the street violence in Chicago, and that, in the wake of CNN’s documentary series Chicagoland, he’ll not be doing a “documentary series,” but rather “something different.” So tune in.

He had to get off the phone to go live on radio, leaving me with several unanswered questions—including one on how last week’s revelations that he had worked as an FBI mob informant had impacted his street cred and agenda.

 “I have a show to do,” he gently protested as I rushed out one more question, about Rev. Hatch endorsing Republican Bruce Rauner for governor. “Will you be making an endorsement in that race?” 

“I’m not getting into that,” he answered.

I wish I had as little as five minutes more with him. Then again, I live and work in Chicago, and he says he’ll be back. Perhaps we can work out a meeting. 

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