In a letter sent last week to both senators, Rev. Sharpton, who previously announced the formation of an exploratory committee to seek a presidential bid, said government offices and their ad agencies aren't adequately complying with a Clinton administration executive order. That order, signed in October 2000, is aimed at improving the use of minority media and minority agencies for government advertising.
"Over a year has passed" since the executive order was signed, said the letter. "Still nothing has changed. In the face of Sept. 11, it is most important that we move to protect and ensure for future generations of black Americans their fair share of voice.
"We are not merely talking about media bias or industrywide discrimination," Rev. Sharpton wrote. "We are talking about Madison Avenue, and for that matter the Democratic National Committee, marginalizing black citizens of New York."
The letter, which also questions whether Madison Avenue has "turned New York into the media Johannesburg of America ... Harlem into the media Sowento of New York," is slated to be formally unveiled at a Washington press conference on an as-yet-undecided date in January. Expected to attend as participants are talk show hosts from several New York minority radio stations, including Ann Tripp and Mark Riley of Inner City Broadcasting Corp.'s WLIB-AM and James Mtume, Bob Slade, Bob Pickett and Charles Ethridge of Emmis Communications' WRKS-FM (KISS FM).
Spokesmen for Sens. Clinton and Schumer were not available for comment last week. John Wolfe, senior VP of the Association of American Advertising Agencies, said his group would be willing to work with Rev. Sharpton if he wants its involvement, but also said this particular issue appears to be one for the federal government to rectify.
The executive order, announced in 2000 by then-Vice President Al Gore, was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. Titled "Increasing opportunities and access for disadvantaged businesses," the order called for expanded federal government efforts to inform small business and minority firms about potential government contracts and to ensure their involvement in the bidding process.
Despite the change in administration, the order apparently remains in effect, although the White House didn't return a call to confirm that.
Rev. Sharpton, in his letter, alleges the order isn't being adequately complied with and cites as proof several recent studies and news stories.
In an interview, he contends he has seen little progress. "Our concern is that we have not seen tangible enforcement of the order and we are asking them to look into this and to have a public hearing," he said. "It is one thing to deal with bias on Madison Avenue. It is another to defy a presidential order."
Rev. Sharpton said he feels there is a mandate and that Congress should look at whether ad agencies and the federal government are complying with it. He said he has not directly contacted the Bush administration, but also intended to contact U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.) the ranking Democratic member of the House Ways and Means Committee.