UP WITH JESSE
Having been locked out of the Kerry campaign, and for that matter, mainstream Democratic Party politics, Jesse Jackson began his own road tour yesterday through Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania using his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition as his vehicle and buses to get him there.
"This is kind of big F-you to Kerry and the DNC," says DNC political staffer. "This isn't something we signed off on, and really, Jackson didn't ask. It's just Jesse being Jesse."
Actually, it's an "Up with Jesse" kind of tour. Surprisingly, Jackson has flexed a bit of muscle to pull together quite a traveling party, one that should give him a bit of cachet moving into the prime campaign season, and which sends a message to the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry: Jesse still has some juice.
Traveling with Jackson on at least some of the legs of the tour are Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME); Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA); Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) and Leon Lynch, vice-president of the USWA. All are labor leaders that are backing Kerry.
According to a Kerry campaign staffer in Washington, the Kerry camp attempted to strong-arm McEntee from lending his presence and his union's backing to the Jackson tour. But McEntee and Kerry, while allied, are not the closest of allies, and McEntee refused the Kerry campaign's entreaties to back away from Jackson.
"The Kerry people should know by now that Gerald is his own man," says an AFSCME lobbyist. "They need him more than he needs them, and he knows it."
Jackson has raised more than a millions dollars for this trip, though for a three-day bus tour, it's not clear where all that money is going. Nor is it clear that Jackson's latest political rally will generate much buzz. Leading up to it, Jackson's press conference announcing the tour was sparsely attended by the press, and few TV networks had committed to following it.
"Really, the surprise isn't that people like McEntee are associating with Jackson," says the DNC staffer. "It's that people even care about what Jackson is doing given his irrelevance today."
Give some Democrats credit: many of the comments released by party factotums on the death of President Ronald Reagan at least attempted to be gracious. But, while some of the words may have been magnanimous, the actions of some Democrats was not.
In California, according to a Democratic House leadership staffer, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi's office refused until late in the day West Coast time to prepare any remarks by the leader on the passing of the President.
"A call went out around mid-day on the East Coast that Reagan might be in serious condition, and that party leaders should be ready. But Pelosi's people basically said they couldn't' be bothered. [Democratic whip] Steny Hoyer had to get them in line. We got the impression they just didn't want to say anything that would be construed as supportive of a Republican."
Pelosi's office also nixed sending flowers to the funeral home where the president's body was being prepared for burial.
Back in Washington, staffers at the Democratic National Committee stopped a couple of interns who were lowering the flags to half mast outside their headquarters.
"The interns were just doing what they thought was right," says a DNC staffer, who heard about the incident. "But somebody a bit more senior told them not to lower the flags until they absolutely had to, I guess when President Bush announced that all flags should be lowered. There was only an hour's difference. It was pretty petty, but that's how bad things have gotten around here."