Saturday, May 19, 2001

The Rev. Al Sharpton surveyed the faces of New Yorks Democratic Party establishment at the swanky Pierre hotel in mid-town Manhattan in April and noted, “A few years ago, many of you would not be seen in public with me.”
What has changed? Certainly not Mr. Sharpton. While he has traded the lies of the Tawana Brawley hoax for the reality of the Amadou Diallo killing, his efforts to exacerbate racial division for his own ends remain the same. But where once he was shunned as a racial demagogue, he is now courted as one, a dispiriting political fact confirmed by the unfortunate memory of Democratic candidates from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Bill Bradley to Al Gore tripping over each other to pay homage to Mr. Sharpton at his Harlem headquarters last year.
Now, as last months Sharpton fund-raiser at the Pierre goes to show, Democrats will even pay money to be seen with the man known across a spectrum of New York City tabloid columns as a “race-extortionist,” “trickster,” “con man,” “crass opportunist,” “headline-grabbing” “piece of work.” There they were at Mr. Sharptons dinner, all four Democratic candidates for New York City mayor (Fernando Ferrer, Mark Green, Alan Hevesi, and Peter Vallone), not to mention Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Cuomo and Carl McCall, Rep. Charles Rangel and former New York Mayor David Dinkins many of whom, yes, would not have been seen in public with Mr. Sharpton just a few years ago. In this political season, its the New York mayoral candidates who vie for Mr. Sharptons endorsement widely seen as a key to the black vote, a crucial bloc in a Democratic primary in a contest which has become an increasingly bizarre spectacle.
Its not just the weird thought of Mr. Green treating Mr. Sharpton to a Broadway performance of “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Earlier this month, word “leaked” out via Jack Newfield of the New York Post that Mr. Sharpton would finally be endorsing someone Mr. Ferrer, Bronx Borough president. Mr. Sharpton denied the story, insisting to the New York Times that he would never endorse Mr. Ferrer until the day Mr. Ferrer promised in exchange to back black candidates for city office including a black candidate to succeed him as Bronx borough president.
This, of course, could be a problem, considering that there is no black candidate running to succeed Mr. Ferrer in the Bronx. But nobody ever said racial politics was pretty or logical. “Sharpton is actually devaluing his endorsement by holding it hostage to supporting Sharptons folks just because theyre black,” wrote the New York Daily News Michael Kramer, succinctly explaining what had become a major flap.
But why would Mr. Sharpton, supposedly a crafty power broker, do such a politically klutzy thing? Mr. Kramer explained that “Sharptons real complaint is that Ferrer jumped the gun by telling of his support” too soon. No, Jack Newfield wrote in turn. Al Sharpton himself, not Fernando Ferrer, was the source of the endorsement story. “The Rev. Trickster claims that Ferrer was my source,” Mr. Newfield wrote. “Thats bull and he knows it.” Maybe he does, but that sort of thing has never stopped him before. Even more amazing, though, it hasnt stopped the candidates, Mr. Ferrer included, from continuing to compete for a Sharpton endorsement. As the New York Post put it, “The one who finally winds up with the nod is going to have to explain what he paid to get it. Is it really worth it?” Would that the Democratic voters of New York give the candidates the correct answer.

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