Hillary Rodham Clinton used the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday to campaign for the Senate before several black audiences around New York City, where she pledged support for affirmative action and the fight against police brutality and said her career had been shaped by King's message of service.
Polls show Clinton's support among African Americans to be the highest of any ethnic group, at over 80 percent. But some prominent black figures say Clinton has not paid enough attention to this core Democratic constituency as she tours this state she hopes will elect her in November to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D).
Among the groups that hosted her today was the National Action Network of Al Sharpton, a controversial civil rights activist and former Senate candidate who had routinely chided Clinton in recent months about when she would meet with him. In New York's political theater, Sharpton is among the more persistent and vocal figures, frequently leading marches or rallies on issues such as police brutality. He is a foe of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Clinton's likely opponent.
In a measure of how Clinton's bid for the Senate has shaken New York politics, both Sharpton and another old foe who once jailed him, former Mayor Edward I. Koch, shared the stage. Both are Democrats. Both want to see Giuliani defeated. Said Sharpton: "This stage represents a new definition of politics."
In one of three stops at King Day events around town, Clinton met with Sharpton briefly in the offices of his Harlem headquarters before delivering a speech to a jam-packed audience there.
While the two were out of the auditorium, one of Sharpton's National Action Network board members, Rev. Charles Norris, told a story with anti-Semitic overtones, about being fired from two jobs as a young man. In each case, he said derisively, the employer was "a Jew."
Apparently alerted by her aides of the statements made from the podium where she was about to speak, Clinton alluded to Norris's story during her speech. Reading from the same remarks she had delivered at two earlier events, Clinton deviated when discussing the social evils such as racism and discrimination that plague society. "We know that anti-Semitism still stalks our land as well," she said.
Throughout the day, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, Clinton told of her encounter with King as a teenager. A white girl from an all-white Chicago suburb, she ventured into the city with her pastor and other teenagers, she said. It was 1963, and Clinton said that she remains indelibly moved by the occasion.
"I remember exactly how I felt when I heard him deliver that message of racial reconciliation," she said. "He showed us the indignities that African Americans faced every day--the doors locked shut, the dreams deferred." Afterward, "We stood in a long line to shake his hand. When he gently took my hand, I knew my life would never be the same."
"When people ask why I have dedicated my life to public service, I think about Dr. King," she said. "Dr. King asked us: What are you doing for others?"
Clinton said that among the things needed to heal racial divides was the continuation of affirmative action, which she said, echoing her husband, needs to be "mended, not ended."
And in a controversial New York case about to go to trial, she placed herself at the side of the family of Amadou Diallo, the unarmed Guinean immigrant shot 19 times by police last year. His parents attended today's Sharpton event and Clinton offered her condolences for their son's death.
CAPTION: Hillary Rodham Clinton shares stage at Convent Avenue Baptist Church with former New York City mayors Edward I. Koch, left, and David N. Dinkins.