Jackson Aide to Run Sharpton Campaign

Posted May 7, 2003 at 6:29pm

Frank Watkins, a veteran political operative and press secretary for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), has taken over operations of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s presidential bid.

Watkins took a temporary leave after seven years in Jackson’s office to serve as Sharpton’s campaign manager. He said he will return to Capitol Hill after the race concludes, saying his first loyalty is to Jackson.

Watkins served as press secretary and political director to Jackson’s father, who ran for president in 1984 and 1988. He also masterminded Jesse Jackson Sr.’s presidential bids and served as Jackson Jr.’s campaign manager for Congress.

Jackson Jr. said Wednesday that Sharpton turned to Watkins after having read a book he authored with the Illinois lawmaker. The book, “A More Perfect Union — Advancing New American Rights,” advocates for amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing rights in areas such as health care, education and voting.

“Frank was contacted by Rev. Sharpton and said, ‘I want to run a campaign on the platform of ‘A More Perfect Union,’” Rep. Jackson said.

“Frank Watkins is using this opportunity to advocate a substantive agenda and add a serious substantive agenda to Rev. Sharpton’s efforts,” he added.

Watkins said: “It is only because he is running on the agenda Congressman Jackson laid out in his book ‘A More Perfect Union’ that I would even consider coming on as a campaign manager. And he said that is what he was running on.”

Sharpton, who has run for public office several times but never before for president, is considered a long shot for the Democratic nomination among nine hopefuls who include four Senators and two House Members.

Watkins said the first order of business is fundraising, noting that Sharpton raised just $114,000 in the first quarter. As for predictions about the outcome of the race, he said: “What I do know is one person will win and eight people will lose. I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure he’s not one of the eight.”

Rep. Jackson, who hasn’t endorsed any candidate, said Watkins will add structure to the Sharpton campaign, and help launch its legitimacy in a crowded field of contenders.

He said Sharpton, through a platform of constitutional changes, will promote an agenda that can truly make change. That runs counter to the other candidates who talk about launching programs that are merely “promissory notes.”