Pete Buttigieg met with activist Al Sharpton for lunch on Monday, as the South Bend, Indiana, mayor continues to rise in the 2020 presidential polls.
The pair ate at the soul food restaurant Sylvia’s, where Sharpton met with Kamala Harris in February.
Buttigieg sat down with a plate of fried chicken and greens and ice tea, while Sharpton had a plate of with a single slice of toast as photographers peered through the windows of the restaurant. When Buttigieg got his food, he asked Sharpton to say the blessing. Sharpton bowed his head slightly in silence before concluding with an “Amen.”
“It’s not rude to eat with my hands, is it?” Buttigieg asked as he gnawed on a piece of fried chicken.
“No, no, go ahead, eat chicken with your hands,” Al Sharpton replied.
Sharpton focused intently on a discussion of homophobic politics in churches and faith-based communities.
“We need to deal with homophobia in the faith and the black communities and you should be judged by your merits, and we can’t fight bigotry based on race, and we’re going to bigots based on sexual orientation,” Sharpton said.
He said he was inspired by Buttigieg’s run as an openly gay candidate.
“My sister’s gay, and I grew up watching her having to navigate between being black and being gay at a time, I’m talking about the ’60s,” he said.
He said that his sister called him when he was running for president to challenge him on same-sex marriage issues, which helped him understand how to be more sensitive on the topic.
Buttigieg asked Sharpton if he had any advice from his own failed presidential run in 2004.
“The grind — nobody can repay you for the grind,” Sharpton recalled, urging him to be “committed” on the campaign trail. “I think people can tell if you’re sincere.”
Sharpton said that figures in the religious right preaching against same-sex marriage were “ridiculous” like Franklin Graham
“I think he’ll isolate himself over time, with that kind of language,” Buttigieg responded, referring to Graham. “At least, I’d like to think that.”
“This whole judgmental thing sets the premise to come and say the same thing about “the other which is what Trump is doing,” Sharpton said. “And I think you give the ability for us to have that conversation in real time.”
Sharpton said that Trump helped communities of color and other minorities to unite.
“I think if anything Donald Trump has done for us, is he’s given us a clear issue at dealing with who we need to deal with,” he said.
Buttigieg spoke with Sharpton about the state of the race noting that California moving up it’s primary would bring an additional challenge of fighting an “air war” in an expensive media environment.
“You’re really relying on that earned media alone, it comes by way of a good performance in the early states — so Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, you know, beating expectations there helps propel us in the headlines at the right moment when the race goes national,” he said.
Buttigieg also said that getting the “right geographies” in California would help him win some delegates in the state, which would add to his tally.
He said he needed to reach out and bring in more diverse communities into his campaign to help him spread his message nationwide.
After the meal, it appeared that Buttigieg and his team did not realize that media cameras were broadcasting the pair’s conversation live.
“I would have nice to know that I was on the record, but I try not to ever say anything that I would be embarrassed to have repeated, so I guess we’re going to be all right,” Buttigieg quipped.
“Well, it’s too late now,” Sharpton replied.
A new ABC/Washington Post poll showed Buttigieg polling above Harris, earning third place in the 2020 race behind Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
The trip to Sylvia’s has become a rite of passage for Democratic candidates looking for Sharpton’s blessing for the presidential race.
“A man who likes fried chicken and cornbread can’t be all that bad,” Sharpton said after meeting with Barack Obama at Sylvia’s in 2007.
Sharpton hosted several of the 2020 candidates at the National Action Forum in early April but Buttigieg is the first one that emerged from the forum with a lunch meeting.