Updated 04/06/2011 11:21 PM
Obama Addresses National Action Network's Midtown Gala
For the second time in as many weeks, President Barack Obama was back in New York City, and paid tribute to the Reverend Al Sharpton in a presidential visit Wednesday that was heavy with political overtones. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
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A Wednesday rally with the Reverend Al Sharpton was one of the first stops for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.
Watch President Barack Obama's complete speech to the National Action Network.
Sharpton was marking the 20th anniversary of his National Action Network with a gala in Midtown's Sheraton Hotel to honor prominent African-Americans.
The appearance also marked Obama's first visit to Sharpton's organization as president.
"I told Reverend Al backstage, he's getting skinner than me," joked the president. "He's getting skinnier than [movie director] Spike [Lee]."
Obama then outlined broad goals for his potential second presidential term, including higher levels of college-educated children and the development of high-speed mass transit and "clean" energy sources.
"If some of us are falling behind, we won't win the future," the president said. "An American dream that's in reach for all of us -- that's what we've been trying to build for the last two years, and that's what the National Action Network has been trying to build for 20 years."
Last election, it took a while for the pair to draw close. Now, Obama is counting on Sharpton to get out the vote among African-Americans and some liberals.
"I'm not asking you to think about what we've already done so you can satisfied with our progress. I know this isn't the 'National Satisfaction Network,' this is the National Action Network," said the president. "But I am asking you to draw inspiration from the fact that we know change is possible."
Obama cast his agenda as a modern civil rights struggle. His team uses similar language in their plan to tap new voter registration to win again.
"That's maybe one of the differences between how I approach this and some on the other side who seem to want the constrict the number of people who want to vote. I think let's let everybody in America vote," said presidential advisor David Axelrod.
It is a sign how far Sharpton has come in two decades. No longer radioactive, at least for a lot of the country, Sharpton now even stumps with prominent Republican Newt Gingrinch on improving education.
Embracing Sharpton is now a blessing for Democrats, without being a national albatross.
"He has morphed from being a medal-wearing, jogging suit activist to a national leader with a blueprint and a following that I think is unequal in this country today," said Democratic consultant Roberto Ramirez.
The Harlem reverend can now draw not just the president, but also three U.S. Cabinet members in one day.
Obama made several stops in the city last week, including a fundraiser in Harlem that netted more than a million dollars for the Democratic Party.