Wednesday, April 3, 2013 | 4:22 p.m.
Sen. Harry Reid has forged some unorthodox alliances to better fight for his pet issues. But a new partnership with former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson is arguably his most unexpected coupling yet.
A shared passion for boxing is bringing the steely senator and Iron Mike together in the political ring to urge President Barack Obama to posthumously pardon Jack Johnson, the first African-American to hold the world boxing heavyweight title, via an online petition.
Johnson was convicted under the Mann Act of “transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes,” based on the testimony of a former girlfriend of Johnson’s who worked as a prostitute.
But then and since, many have argued that prosecutors were looking for any excuse to drum up charges against Johnson, a famous, charismatic black man who publicly dated white women during the height of the Jim Crow era.
The case is old — Johnson was convicted in 1913 and would eventually serve his one-year sentence in 1921.
On Wednesday, Reid and Tyson launched and cosigned a petition to pardon Johnson on the hosting site Change.org and announced their efforts via Twitter.
“Sign my petition to the @barackobama,” Tyson tweeted. “We can make a difference.”
“One great boxer standing up for another,” Reid tweeted from his official account.
Tyson and Reid appear to be going for about 500,000 signatures with their online petition. At the time of writing, they had collected 712 in the span of a few hours.
They do not appear to have launched a similar petition on the White House’s petition site. Under White House policy, if a petition registered with the White House collects 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the administration will provide a response.
It is not yet clear if Tyson’s star power in and beyond the world of boxing will add momentum to the campaign to pardon Johnson. Last month, Reid and several other senators relaunched an intra-governmental effort to secure a pardon; in the past, such efforts have been widely supported in Congress but have failed to secure a presidential pardon.
Reid and Tyson met formally in Reid’s office on Tuesday before the coordinated launch of their campaign. Both call Southern Nevada home, though Tyson is a more recent arrival.