- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

NEW YORK — It has been a dull and dreary summer without the Rev. Al Sharpton, as many have noted.
Out of sight for 90 days, with only vague reports of how much weight he lost during a hunger strike, Mr. Sharpton, in his absence, left a void in the tabloids that no amount of mayoral election news could fill.
Not to worry: He's now running for president.
Since his release two weeks ago from a Brooklyn jail where the longtime street activist did his time for protesting Navy exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the once-rotund reverend has come out swinging, weighing in 30 pounds lighter and spoiling for a fight. His first public words: "No justice, no peace."
Mr. Sharpton, 46, has taken a variety of steps as a once-more free man, all of them seen as part of his overall strategy to eclipse the Rev. Jesse Jackson, his former mentor. After revelations in January that he fathered a child with a staffer, Mr. Jackson, 60, the once-undisputed national black leader, has all but withdrawn from the public stage.
As though in response to Mr. Jackson's indiscretions, Mr. Sharpton has burnished his own image by renewing his marriage vows in an elaborate ceremony at a Harlem church with Kathy Jordan Sharpton, his wife of 21 years.
He then left for a second honeymoon in Miami, but found time this week for a side trip to Puerto Rico to cheer the release of Independence Party President Ruben Barrios, also jailed for demonstrating on Vieques. Over the Labor Day weekend, he opened another office in Las Vegas, then returned to New York for the Caribbean Day parade today.
"He wants to be everywhere and touch everything," said his spokeswoman, Rachel Noerdlinger.
While in prison, the Brooklyn-born Mr. Sharpton received scores of politicians, especially candidates running for the mayor's job. His response was to form a coalition with Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, the only minority candidate in the race. It was a sure-fire media play that got him on page one of the New York Times.
To Rep. Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who headed the coalition, the move seemed mystical. "We know we have a mission to be together," he said.
To Mr. Sharpton, such a union is logical. "What discourages us is that [even] if you stand on your head, the absolute reality of New York is that the average white voter will not vote for you."
As for his presidential ambitions, Mr. Sharpton says he intends to form an exploratory committee for a Democratic run in 2004. He will barnstorm through 10 states starting this month and will conduct a "freedom ride" in New Hampshire in October. His platform will center on public education and criminal justice.
Mr. Jackson ran for president in 1984 and 1988. Mr. Sharpton ran twice for the U.S. Senate and once for mayor.
No one expects the passionate preacher to win, but merely to underscore the positions he has staked out in the interests of blacks.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, who put Mr. Sharpton in jail in 1978 when he conducted a sit-in the mayor's office and later struck up an unlikely friendship with him, is one of the few prominent white politicians who defend him.
"He's a genuine black leader in the black community," said the former mayor. "The reason he's held in high regard by blacks is that he's willing to go to jail for them."
As for white support, however, Mr. Koch presents a caveat.
"He has no position in the white community because he hangs on to the Tawana Brawley hoax as if it were true," Mr. Koch said, referring to Miss Brawley's sensational but roundly disproved story that a group of white men led by a district attorney raped her in 1987. "I've told him that many times, but he says, 'I believe her.'"
Evaluating Mr. Sharpton's presidential run, one veteran politician recalled the Harlem rabble-rouser in Tom Wolfe's novel "The Bonfire of the Vanities."
At one point, the Rev. Reginald Bacon says to two white men from downtown: "What do we want? We want the people of Harlem looking after the children of Harlem. We're going to draw our strength from our people and our own streets. … I told you that a long time ago, in the earliest days. Do you remember?"

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