Politics is a fickle business. One week after presidential candidate Bill Bradley spent hours at Sunday services being embraced by the Rev. Floyd Flake and his congregation at Allen AME Church in St. Albans, Vice President Al Gore received the endorsement of the influential minister and former congressman.
"This is the man who should be the next president," Flake told the approximately 1,000 people in the sanctuary after Gore addressed the crowd.
The endorsement comes one week after Bradley, Gore's rival for the Democratic nomination for president, attended a news conference at the church with the Rev. Al Sharpton, who criticized Gore for not clearly stating his position on racial issues.
Flake and Gore presented themselves as longtime friends and colleagues who shared a vision of economic revival for inner city communities.
"Rev. Flake, I thank you for your friendship. You, too, Floyd Flake," Gore joked, referring to Flake's wife, Elaine, who is the co-pastor of Allen AME, one of the largest black churches in the city.
Gore said many questioned Flake's decision to retire from Congress in 1998, but he understood Flake's dream of building up the church community.
Gore said Flake's vision of strengthening the church and constructing a stronger community required him to leave Washington.
In the past, some political analysts had suggested that Flake, who supported Mayor Giuliani's 1997 re-election bid, would defect to the Republican Party to run for mayor. But when introducing the vice president to his congregation, Flake sounded like a staunch Democrat.
Gore, who has been described as an overly formal speaker, spent the first 10 minutes of his appearance engaging the crowd and meeting audience members. At one point, he introduced his daughter Karina, who recently had a baby, and asked the audience for grandparenting hints.
He walked into the aisles of the church and shook hands with several congregants, including one married for more than 60 years and another with 32 grandchildren.
"No wonder this is one of the fastest growing churches," Gore quipped.
He then spent the rest of his time focusing on race relations.
"I reject those who say we have achieved a color-blind society," he said. "I want to say to those people, what country are you looking at."
He said the average income of black families nationwide is far below the average income for whites.
"I do believe it is time for us to march on to a hate crimes bill and defend affirmative action," he said.
Numerous politicians were in attendance, including state Comptroller Carl McCall who received the longest applause. Flake touted McCall, the state's highest-ranking black public official, as a future candidate for governor.
"It was a very effective speech. He spoke very well to the needs of the community," said Morshed Alam, a Democratic state Senate candidate and School Board 29 member.
"He's really improved his speaking ability. He's the man right now," said Clifton Stanley Diaz, president of the Rochdale Village Civic Association.
After receiving Flake's backing, Gore reportedly held a private meeting with Sharpton and discussed issues relevant to the black community. Sharpton told reporters he and the vice president had had a constructive meeting but would not further comment on it.
©2000 Community News Group
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