- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2000

NEW YORK The Rev. Al Sharpton goes to jail on Monday, and a phalanx of reporters and cameras will chronicle every word of the state's emerging political power broker.
To most public figures, a jail sentence would mean a fall from fame and glory. But for the insult-proof Mr. Sharpton, doing time has always been just one more step toward securing the power and influence he wields through his National Action Network, and lately among the country's premier Democrats.
His status has been greatly enhanced by virulently attacking the New York Police Department and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, first in the case of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who was beaten and sodomized in a police station house, and then in the matter of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed West African street peddler who died in a hail of 41 police bullets, 19 of which hit him.
Beginning Monday, the flamboyant preacher will serve 10 days for closing down the Atlantic City Expressway during a protest march last summer. Escorting him as he surrenders to New Jersey authorities will be four black and Hispanic young men who say they were victims of so-called "racial profiling" two years ago when police stopped their car and then fired shots at them. The incident which led to a national debate over racial profiling provided the springboard, some would say "excuse," for one more of Mr. Sharpton's many spirited demonstrations.
His critics began raising their eyebrows in 1997 when he ran for mayor and won 32 percent of the vote in a Democratic primary.
As of today, by a coincidence of shrewd timing and shameless public relations, Mr. Sharpton has become the talk of the town, a kingmaker in the Democratic Party during an election year and a skilled orator who has made an art of race politics. In short, he has that momentum of celebrity and, in some quarters, even grudging respect that propels a small-time rabble-rouser into a force to be reckoned with.
He is a juicy subject for editorial writers and columnists speculating on his role in the senatorial race between first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and Mr. Giuliani.
"Nobody in my community is screaming 'Let's go to bat for Hillary,' " he says of Mrs. Clinton, whom he describes as too conservative. The first lady and Mr. Sharpton appeared to be in warm agreement when, to the delight of local Democrats, they recently met at his Harlem-based "House of Justice."
To the Republican National Committee, he is an anti-Semitic and dangerous racist. "He is their Bob Jones and their David Duke," says RNC spokesman Mike Collins. In fact, last week Rep. Joe Scarborough, Florida Republican, called on the House to pass a resolution condemning Mr. Sharpton for his intemperate remarks.
In a cover story in the March 20 National Review, Mr. Sharpton is portrayed as a hatemonger, who during the Crown Heights riots in 1991 told the crowd, "If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house."
Mr. Sharpton was defiant in an interview. "Name one, just name one instance where I made an anti-Semitic remark." He flatly denied ever attacking Jews, although many newspapers and broadcast stations have documented such remarks over the years.
Alluding to this election year, he adds: "These fabrications will energize a black voter turnout. They'll come out whether they like Gore or not. That's why we laugh at the right-wing attackers."
Mr. Sharpton concedes that he has made "insensitive" remarks and says he has apologized with one exception: Tawana Brawley. He still believes "that something happened" to the upstate teen-ager who in 1987 falsely said she was abducted and raped by a gang of white men.
Why, ask his detractors, is there a double standard for Republicans and Democrats? Presidential contender George W. Bush, the Texas governor, was assailed for speaking at Bob Jones University, which until very recently forbade interracial dating, but no howls arose when the Democratic presidential candidates, Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley as well as Mrs. Clinton sought Mr. Sharpton's political blessing.
He says there is no double standard because he was a guest of Republican Gov. George E. Pataki in 1995 and has met with several other Republicans over the years.
Mr. Sharpton does have friends among Republicans, such as Aaron Manaigo, chairman of the Council of Black Republicans, which is affiliated with the RNC. "It's hard to tear him down because the people believe in him," he says, and Mr. Sharpton was on the right side of the issue in the Diallo case, in which the officers were acquitted.
"I don't like his tactics all of the time, but you have to respect what he does."
Nevertheless, the past continues to haunt Mr. Sharpton, and with every article comes a reprise of old misdeeds: his participation in the Brawley hoax; his alliances with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has described Judaism as a "gutter religion" and whites as "subhuman," and Mr. Farrakhan's race-baiting former spokesman, Khalid Abdul Muhammad; and his campaign against a Jewish store owner in Harlem he called him a "white interloper" that eventually led to the burning of the shop and the deaths of eight persons.
"He is a Southern racist politician who knows how to speak in code, to agitate without implicating himself," says Fred Siegel, an urban history scholar at the Cooper Union for Arts and Sciences. "In a city where institutional liberalism has failed, he adds, "liberals in the press and politics need the gestural radicalism of Mr. Sharpton to maintain their own identity."
Political theory aside, Mr. Sharton has his own ideas for the future. "I want to rebuild the national civil rights movement," he said, "to fill the need for an outside force."
Mr. Siegel scoffs at this, charging that Mr. Sharpton's real goal is to divide blacks and whites and make money at it. "It's a protection racket," he said. "The candidates pay homage to him and buy his protection so they won't be the target of his harassment."

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