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Rev. Al Sharpton in Detroit: Sen. Gary Peters defends 'issues we care about'

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — Rev. Al Sharpton campaigned for Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters here on Wednesday, calling him a friend of voting rights and other civil rights issues while mocking his black Republican opponent as being used by interest groups. 

Standing on the flatbed of a truck in the parking lot of Historic King Solomon Baptist Church, the longtime controversial civil rights activist from New York said "the only one that has consistently showed up and defended and stood by the issues we care about is Sen. Peters."

"Let me say that is more important that not only is this, as others have said, the most crucial election of our lives, but it is crucial that Michigan come out and vote," said Sharpton, who was flanked by Peters and other local civil rights activists. "What got me to come is the need to come out and vote and make a statement in Michigan because we know when we are insulted."

The Rev. Al Sharpton is pictured at his New York office on July 30, 2020. Sharpton campaigned Wednesday for U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, in Detroit.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is running in an expensive contest against Republican businessman and Army veteran John James of Farmington Hills. The race has featured millions of dollars spent by outside groups that attack the records and views of both candidates.

Sharpton's visit highlights the final push for the two Senate candidates as surrogates come to campaign with them. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump's first ambassador to the United Nations, will be campaigning Thursday for James in Novi.

Sharpton took heavy aim at James, saying he wants to ask him: "Why as a child of affirmative action he's against affirmative action?"

It's not clear what James' position on affirmative action is.

"I want to ask him, as someone who is black, (why) he would stand with a president that has desecrated black folks?" Sharpton continued. "I want to ask him how he can run with (Education Secretary) Betsy DeVos, who has done more against black children and brown children and poor white children in terms of public education."

Peters said his re-election is critical to the Democrats taking control of the U.S. Senate from the Republicans and giving Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden an edge in combating the coronavirus pandemic that has hurt cities like Detroit and protecting civil rights and health care.

The Republicans, Peters said, pushed Amy Coney Barrett's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court through a fast confirmation process that could threaten to overturn the Affordable Health Care Act "and who we know will change things dramatically."

"Can you imagine that, that they are pushing through a nominee that they know will overturn the Affordable Care Act while we are in the middle of a pandemic?" he said. "That is simply outrageous."

Peters also reminded the crowd that James, dating back to a statement he made during his race against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, supports Donald Trump "2,000%."

"We have to take the majority in the Senate," Peters said. "...In order to do that, we have to hold Michigan. I have to be the Democratic senator from this state."

The attacks against James won't work with voters, said Stu Sandler, a top consultant for the campaign.

"Sen. Peters and his allies continue to attack John James, a combat veteran and a job creator who's created good-paying jobs in Detroit because they have nothing to say about what Gary Peters has done because he's been an ineffective career politician his entire life who has no results to bring to the table," Sandler said.

Sharpton said he was motivated to come to Michigan because an alleged plot to kidnap and harm Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was thwarted by federal agents, but "the president of the United States acts like it's no big deal."

"If the people of Michigan don't take that as a personal threat and insult, you will send a signal that will be something that history will have your grandchildren angry at," he said. "He has personally offended the people of this state."

Trump has said at Michigan rallies that his U.S. attorneys helped thwart the plot, but Whitmer accused him of being a white supremacist instead of thanking him. 

“It was our people that helped her out with her problem," the president said at Tuesday's rally at the Lansing airport. "We’ll have to see if it’s a problem, right? People are entitled to say maybe it was a problem, maybe it wasn’t.”

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming