- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

NEW YORK — Politicians, rap moguls, reporters and professional activists are making hourly pilgrimages to a Brooklyn federal jail where the Rev. Al Sharpton is vowing to endure his hunger fast, sobbing for the television cameras and comparing himself to Nelson Mandela.
So Meccalike has the place of Mr. Sharptons internment become, updates on his physical and political condition are a regular feature of news broadcasts and speculation is rife as to how much his latest media event may have shaken up the New York mayoral race.
Mr. Sharpton, who says he is considering a run for the presidency, is doing time for trespassing last month on a U.S. Navy firing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. Three New York politicians of Puerto Rican descent who were with him drew 40-day sentences, but a federal judge in San Juan slapped the loquacious reverend, a veteran of civil disobedience, with a 90-day sentence. The men now known as "The Vieques Four" were transferred to the Metropolitan Detention Center after Rep. Charles E. Rangel of Harlem intervened on their behalf with the Justice Department.
Late Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico, rejected motions to stay the sentences or set bail for the four men, saying they failed to prove that they would not flee or pose a danger to the community if freed on bail. Tomorrow the court will hear an appeal of the convictions.
The portly clerics incarceration and hunger strike, which he began on Tuesday, have not only put him back on Page One as a crusader, but have underlined his claim to the title of the nations most vociferous civil rights activist, a distinction held until recently by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
In fact, Mr. Jackson, who has been largely out of sight since it was revealed that he fathered a child with a staffer, joined the supplicants who turned up in the jailhouse last week.
He said that children on Vieques had cancer and asthma as a result of the bombing practice and blamed the White House.
Describing Mr. Sharpton as a "buffoon," Michael Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said: "This fits right into Sharptons plan to morally disgrace Jesse on the public ministry stage. Now hes the person who mainstream politicians go to as the Big Black — with capitals — in town. They need a Big Black. Thats how they deal with these communities."
The Navys decision to resume bombing on Vieques in a few weeks has lured a steady stream of politicians and celebrities to the island, including New York Republican Gov. George E. Pataki, who is seeking re-election.
However, Mr. Sharptons trip to Vieques came at a time when he had stumbled badly in his efforts to make a deal with Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, a mayoral candidate.
Mr. Ferrer, who was seeking a Hispanic-black coalition, refused to guarantee Mr. Sharpton that he would appoint blacks to specific jobs in exchange for his support.
Mr. Sharptons visitors have included former Mayor Edward I. Koch, who once arrested Mr. Sharpton; Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York; the Rev. Wyatt T. Walker, an ally of Martin Luther King; State Controller H. Carl McCall, a Democratic candidate for governor; Abner Louima, a police brutality victim; Mr. Rangel; and Mr. Ferrer.
The other three members of the Vieques Four — City Councilman Adolfo Carrion Jr., State Assemblyman Jose Rivera and Bronx Democratic leader Roberto Ramirez — have remained in the background.
But Mr. Sharpton, grizzled and watery-eyed, greeted a host of visiting press.
He wept openly during a television interview with NY1, saying: "Were talking about people. It aint all politics. And thats the only thing that hurts me. That weve reduced people to just chips on some political chessboard, rather than understanding that people need someone to stand up for them. It hurts, but Im going to stand. You need a lot of strength to fight wickedness in high places."
Outside the jail, protesters mounted a vigil. "Why are you here demonstrating? The Navy has dug in. Whats the use?" a reporter inquired of a Hispanic activist on the line. "People said that to [Nelson] Mandela," she replied, a reflection of Mr. Sharptons recent remarks in which he compared himself to the South African leader.
Noting that the worlds records for hunger strikes were set by Indian holy man Mohandas K. Gandhi (70 days) and IRA member Bobby Sands (who died after 66 days), a New York Times columnist commented: "May we have a show of hands of those who believe that Al Sharpton is in the same league when it comes to self-denial."


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