- The Washington Times - Friday, May 3, 2002

The Rev. Al Sharpton said yesterday that his presidential Cabinet would be diverse, inclusive and filled with "skill and will."
The black activist, who has been testing the waters for a possible presidential run in 2004, said that his administration would promote civil rights and reach out to the nation's growing Hispanic population, a pivotal voting bloc that Republicans have been aggressively courting.
But at the outset of his speech yesterday at the National Press Club, Mr. Sharpton refused to speculate on the particulars of a Sharpton White House, saying, "I have not announced or decided" whether he will run in 2004.
Nonetheless, he still sounded like the Democratic candidate who, in a recent Zogby poll, ranked higher than North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, considered by some to be the party's best hope for 2004.
Mr. Sharpton, well known for his fiery rhetoric, yesterday delivered a political speech that focused on a range of issues of concern to many in the civil rights establishment.
His one-hour appearance in front of 120 people including media executive Percy Sutton and Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. was restrained by prior standards as he laid out his platform.
"I'm really announcing concerns," he said, "for anyone who intends to run."
He continued to criticize many of the post-September 11 policies of President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"John Ashcroft was my landlord for three months last year, so I might say that up front," Mr. Sharpton said, referring to his three-month stay in a Brooklyn, N.Y., jail for protesting Navy exercises in Vieques, Puerto Rico. "But I still don't know why we have to sacrifice the rights of all Americans because Mr. Ashcroft says this is the way to protect us."
Black critics of the administration, he continued, have been called unpatriotic.
"But no one has been more patriotic than African Americans. We fought for America even when America would not fight for us," he said.
On the prevalence of American flags in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, Mr. Sharpton asked, "Aren't these some of the same people who defended flying the Confederate flag just a few months ago?"
For that remark, he received hearty applause from the mixed-race audience.
Echoing a sentiment he has voiced during several of his recent speeches, Mr. Sharpton said there is little difference between Republicans and Democrats in their positions on race both are bad by his standards.
"I want to make it clear that neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party can continue its present relationship with people of color in this country," he said. "We are taken for granted by one and neglected by the other. And we can't afford to be in the back pocket of one that will sit down on you."
While Mr. Sharpton's comments have been echoed by black Democrats for years, some in the Democratic Party fear that the civil rights activist's iconoclasm will detract attention from other, more mainstream, presidential candidates who have a better chance of defeating a Republican opponent in 2004.
Mr. Sharpton announced the formation of an exploratory committee late last year and has made appearances during the past six weeks in Mississippi, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and his home state of New York.

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