Maer Roshan: On the way to jail, Ed Koch was remarking that the first time you were jailed for civil disobedience, he was the one who put you there.
Al Sharpton: It is ironic, but the funny thing is, in the 23 years since that incident, neither of us has really changed our position. When I was arrested at City Hall, Koch said, you have a right to civil disobedience, but you also gotta be willing to pay the price. I was willing to pay the price.
Ed Koch: In this case, though, the price is too high. Ninety days for nonviolent civil disobedience? It’s outrageous. Everyone else got 40 days. Why were you singled out?
Al: The judge said because I was a repeat offender, I deserved a higher sentence. He went back to my ‘90 conviction in New York, when we were protesting Howard Beach. I served ten days.
Ed: What happened at trial?
Al: I wasn’t given a chance to speak to the court at all. The only time I was allowed to address the judge was after I was convicted. By then, what was the point?
M.R.: A lot of people are surprised by your odd friendship.
Ed: People call me on my radio show to yell at me. They say, how could you even talk to this guy?! He’s anti-Semitic and he’s anti-white.
Al: But I’m not anti-Semitic or anti-white. I think black-Jewish relations are one of the most important issues to be resolved, and I’m working on it. In jail, I’m reading a book on Rabbi Hersh, who marched with Dr. King. I’ve been active with people like Rabbi Marc Schneier in bridging our divisions.
Ed: My own position is that Sharpton is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-white. But I’ve said he can be a demagogue.
Al: You’ve said it to me. Laughs.
Ed: I have. But you’re getting better. Your biggest roadblock to redemption is Tawana Brawley. When are you finally gonna apologize for the hoax she perpetrated?
Al: No time soon. I still believe her, and nothing I’ve heard since changes my mind. Not even you, Ed. Laughs. But keep trying.
M.R.: Not even a defamation suit?
Al: That’s been settled.
Ed: It’s settled because a judge ordered you to pay damages for slander, right?
Al: I paid him in full! Don’t owe the man a dime.
Ed: Even some of your supporters made fun of you when you compared yourself to Nelson Mandela.
Al: Ridiculous! I never compared myself to him. I just said that my civil disobedience carries on in his tradition. Nelson Mandela served 28 years! I wouldn’t compare myself to him if I served 90 days. That was blown up by some columnist.
M.R.: Recently, you seem to be backpedaling on your decision to run for president.
Al: I’m not backpedaling. From the beginning, I said that if someone else could carry the mantle for progressives in this country, I’d support them. But I haven’t found anyone else who’s up to the job. Koch isn’t running!
M.R.: What’s it like in jail?
Al: Well, I’ve always been an early riser, and it’s no different here. I get up at five and walk around a bit, and at eight my lawyers come in. Mostly, I read a lot. This book on the rabbi, a history of Martin Luther King . . .
M.R.: Not one for light fiction, are you?
Al: Never had a taste for it.
M.R.: Are you treated differently from other inmates?
Al: I don’t even see other inmates. We’re kept in isolation from them. I probably get more visitors, though. Hillary was here, and Jesse. When Jesse Jackson came, we hugged and prayed.
M.R.: This morning, you began your third day of fasting. How are you feeling?
Al: Fine. The hardest part is the first day, but after that it gets easier. This isn’t just a protest fast for me. Fasting cleans your spirit, takes your focus off the physical. Everyone should do it.
Ed: I don’t think you should do it, Al. I want you to stop this fast, quick. Bush will be happy to let you die.
Al: Laughs. He’ll be very disappointed, then.
M.R.: This morning on the news, you were in tears when talking about Vieques. Why does it move you so much?
Al: I see myself in those children. I grew up in Brownsville, a place that is treated just like Vieques is. I look in their eyes and I’m moved.
Ed: Your first meal after your release will be with Kathy and the children. But we expect your second meal to be with us.
Al: Sure. At the Four Seasons, of course.