"I was born in the slums, but the slum wasn't born in me; born against the odds, to a teenage mother who was the daughter of a teenage mother. I was raised against the odds. And I run (for president) against the odds. But when I get through, there will be no impossible dreams. If I win, you win." - The Rev. Jesse Jackson addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
America's mayors and a host of other people packed the Red Lion hotel's grand ballroom Tuesday to hear Jesse Jackson speak, to see for themselves if he could stir them like they'd been told he could.They weren't disappointed.
Jackson, criticized in his presidential bid for not explaining where he would get the billions of dollars he'd need as president to reform the nation's cities and social programs, spoke specifically to the mayors gathered in the hotel.
But he knew who his real audience was - those who lined the room behind the seated mayors. And for them, his oratory was moving and captivating.
"People ask, `What does Jesse Jackson want?' That question is disrespectful. It is wrong. The question is, `What have I built? Where am I going?' " Jackson told the standing-room-only crowd.
Answering reporters' questions as he arrived in Utah, Jackson spoke about what he wants. He said he has earned the right of a vice presidential offer but said he hasn't decided yet if he would accept being on the Democratic ticket with Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who will be the party's nominee.
From the time Jackson jogged from his chartered airplane to meet the two dozen screaming fans at the airport, to the standing ovation he got from the mayors, it was clear that Jackson excited those around him more than the other politicians who attended the conference.
Part of his charisma is how he treats people. He stopped to sign autographs and pick up children while admirers yelled, "We love you, Jesse." He shook hands with the mayors on the speaker's platform, but he warmly hugged a young man with AIDS who had previously addressed the mayors.
Dukakis was well received by Salt Lakers when he spoke before the mayors on Sunday. But as he walked the hotel corridors, people didn't rush to Dukakis, want to touch him. They did Jackson.
Jackson walked into crowds openly, meeting all around him. He even worked the crowd in front of the LDS Church Administration Building, as President Thomas S. Monson and other church leaders smiled at his side.
Jackson had canceled his trip to Salt Lake at the last minute, saying he had important activities in Washington, D.C. But he changed his mind and decided to address the mayors, whose meetings he's attended regularly for the past four years.
Jackson, who has been preaching against drugs for years, said he's glad the mayors are so concerned about the menace. But there are more to the problems of the nation's cities than drugs, he said.
"When (president) Reagan speaks of a comprehensive approach to drugs vs. astrological approaches and just saying `No,' - what is he saying: Jackson action. When Bush goes to crack houses - and he thinks crack is a sound, not a drug - what is he saying: Jackson action. When Dukakis stops talking about the Massachusetts miracle and high-tech and speaks on drugs, he's saying: Jackson action. I have set the tone, pace and priorities for the nation.
"But talking drugs is just seizing today's topic, an instant headline. We have to talk about and deal with poverty," Jackson said.
To get money for his ambitious plans, Jackson would reinstate the 38 percent federal income tax bracket for well-to-do Americans - that would bring in $600 million. He'd freeze military spending at current levels for five years; that would save $60 billion by 1993.
"We could do away with the two aircraft carrier task forces now planned; that saves $36 billion. Give some of that money to the cities," Jackson said to the applause of the mayors.
He also proposed two ways to finance the social changes he says must come. First, he wants what he calls a national investment program. The federal government would guarantee investments of the nation's private pension funds used for public needs. "There's $900 billion in pension programs. Use the workers' money for the workers' needs. If only 10 percent, $90 billion, were used over 10 years we could leverage that money to create $150 billion pool for viable projects."
Second, for larger projects an American investment bank must be created. Backed by the government, the bank would issue bonds that would be sold to pension funds. To provide up-front money for the bank, each state would be required to kick in a bit of capital, Jackson said.