At church with de Blasio, Belafonte compares Kochs to the Klan

De Blasio and Belafonte. (Azi Paybarah)
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At a church service with mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio on Sunday, Harry Belafonte, the singer and civil rights activist, denounced the conservative donors David and Charles Koch, calling them "white supremacists," and likened them to the Ku Klux Klan.

"Already we have lost 14 states in this union to the most corrupt group of citizens I've ever known," Belafonte told the crowd at the First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. "They make up the heart and the thinking in the minds of those who would belong to the Ku Klux Klan. They are white supremacists. They are men of evil. They have names. They are flooding our country with money.

"They've come into to New York City," Belafonte continued. "They are beginning to buy their way in to city politics. They are pouring money into Presbyterian Hospital to take over the medical care system. The Koch brothers, that's their name.

"Their money is already seen into the fabric of our daily system and they must be stopped."

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De Blasio, who was seated in the pews for Belafonte's remarks, then joined him on stage and praised the longtime activist.

"He is a treasure to our nation," de Blasio said.

Outside the church, de Blasio was asked about Belafonte's comments.

"I disagree with that characterization," de Blasio said, adding, "that was the wrong way to talk about them."

Pressed as to why he didn't vocalize that disagreement on stage, the Democratic mayoral nominee said, "I'm here mentioning it with you guys. Next."

After speaking to reporters, de Blasio  went into the church and later left the through a side door, away from a handful of reporters.

Rep. Charlie Rangel, who also attended the church service, told Capital he agreed with the actor's remarks.

"I don't believe all of the people that disagree with the president are followers of the Koch brothers or the Klan," said Rangel, when asked about equating the Kochs to racists and the Klu Klux Klan. "But I believe everybody in the Klan and the Koch brothers follow the Tea Party."

De Blasio has previously criticized his opponent, Republican nominee Joe Lhota, for accepting contributions from David Koch, and he has used the conservative activist to accuse Lhota of sympathizing with Koch's conservative causes and his support for the Tea Party.

Koch, who lives in New York City, donated $200,000 last week to a super PAC that's supporting Lhota's campaign.

In a statement, Lhota called on de Blasio to denounce the remarks, citing Ed Koch's criticism of Belafonte.

“It’s reprehensible that a candidate for mayor of the City of New York would closely associate himself with an individual who has equated the American government to Al Qaida and the 9/11 hijackers and has a long history of hateful, racist remarks," Lhota said. "What’s worse, when Bill de Blasio had an opportunity to speak out against his hate speech today, he was silent and instead called Mr. Belafonte ‘a treasure to our nation.’"

After the church service, Belafonte elaborated on his remarks about the Koch brothers.

"Take a look at the United States of America and see where they have invested their money: in the politics and in the gerrymandered districts, and what they support and that says it all,” he said, adding, “There is a difference between what I think, on many issues, and what and what de Blasio thinks.”

A spokesman for Koch Companies, Robert Tappan, said in a statement: "Mr. Belafonte's comments are false and reprehensible. His comments are divisive and destructive, and are indicative of the type of hateful rhetoric that leads to the breakdown of a civil and respectful society.

"It is unfortunate that he and others choose to make such false comments about Charles Koch and David Koch, who have devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and a free society - where every individual is judged on his or her individual merits and they are free to make decisions about their lives."