New York City Mayor Edward Koch and the Rev. Jesse Jackson shook hands briefly after a two-hour meeting Wednesday, and agreed to pursue a “common agenda” that would include attacking urban problems and getting out the vote for Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis.
“The grandsons and granddaughters of slaves and the sons and daughters of the Holocaust must sit down and find common ground,” Jackson said at a news conference following the meeting.
Both sought to deflect attention from events in April, when tensions flared during the New York Democratic primary following remarks by Koch, who said Jews and other supporters of Israel would have to be “crazy” to vote for Jackson, and that Jackson had lied about his participation in the events following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The news conference was held at New York Gov. Mario Cuomo’s Manhattan office at 2 World Trade Center. Cuomo said the meeting, initiated by Koch, “was not an attempt to go back into history, to April 1988, or forward into April 1989.”
Jackson and Koch did agree, according to Cuomo, that it was “important when we do come to differ that we concentrate on judgments or policy rather than on people’s integrity.”
Cuomo spoke first, followed by Koch, then Jackson.
Koch’s remarks in April stung the city’s black community, and at Wednesday’s meeting Jackson mentioned them in the same breath as other recent racially divisive events in New York City.
In particular, he mentioned the death of a black man at the hands of a white gang in Howard Beach, and the ongoing defiance by the Yonker’s City Council of a federal judge’s order to agree to a desegregation plan for the suburb.
But Jackson said he neither sought nor received an apology from Koch for the remarks. “I bear no animosity in my heart toward anyone,” he said.
Koch said that apologies “were not the purpose of this meeting. The purpose was to forge ahead, not to look backward.”
Koch said that in months past, he had already apologized for the stridency, if not the substance, of his remarks.
Those accompanying Jackson at the closed meeting were Manhattan Borough President David Dinkins, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), labor leader Stanley Hill and Jackson’s son Jonathan. Koch was accompanied by businessman Peter Strauss, who is Jewish.
Black leaders and the city’s black-run newspapers objected when the meeting was announced earlier this month.
Those opposing Koch in next April’s Democratic primary for mayor felt a reconciliation between Koch and Jackson would thwart their attempts to launch a “Stop Koch” campaign.
Jackson countered those complaints by saying Wednesday’s meeting was about launching a massive voter registration drive with Koch’s help, in order to help elect Dukakis as president in November.
The meeting, he said afterwards, included a discussion of that issue and the need to address urban problems such as drug abuse, racial discrimination and fair housing.
“I believe in a ‘let’s talk’ policy,” said Jackson.
But Jackson did criticize Koch in the days before the meeting, saying the mayor had abused the power of his office in launching the April attacks.
While the focus of the meeting was party harmony, outside the office building, about 15 members of Jews Against Jackson demonstrated while carrying signs reading “Welcome to Hymietown” and “Hymies for Bush.”
The signs were a reference to a remark made by Jackson about the city during his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.