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Sharpton ponders next move

By Larry Bivins, Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON "” As the Rev. Al Sharpton ponders his next political move, some pundits already are offering post mortems on his 2004 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Rev. Al Sharpton makes a point at a Democratic presidential debate in New York earlier this month.
The Assciated Press

These experts contend that Sharpton's effort to be a major player at the Democratic Party's national convention in Boston this summer is virtually dead "” the victim of an anemic delegate count, the lifeblood of any candidate's quest to shape the party's national platform.

So far, Sharpton has won just 26 delegates out of the 2,162 that are needed to capture the nomination. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts clinched the Democratic nomination Saturday and has 2,193 delegates according to the Associated Press.

Sharpton, 49, a New York City civil rights activist and the only black candidate left in the race, counters that it is too early to assess the impact of his campaign and its relevance in the ongoing struggle among blacks for political power.

In a wide-ranging interview with Gannett News Service, Sharpton reflected on his quixotic White House bid and rebuffed attempts to compare it to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's groundbreaking run in 1988. Sharpton also responded to questions about his fund-raising and campaign spending and his association with conservative Republican consultant Roger Stone.

Sharpton said the purpose of his campaign at the outset was to ensure that Democrats address issues like police misconduct and racial profiling, school vouchers, health care and increasing the number of blacks in Democratic Party leadership positions.

"If we come out of this being able to impact the platform, impact black standing in the party and have an impact in terms of helping Kerry win, then we achieved the goals that we set out," he said. "At the end of the day, that's all that matters."

Jackson's shadow

Since suspending his campaign activity after Super Tuesday on March 2, Sharpton said he has been meeting with Kerry's camp to discuss terms under which he might drop out of the race and swing his support to the Massachusetts senator.

"We are just now at the point of negotiating with Kerry on the convention," Sharpton said. "The real issue at the end of the day is whether or not what we've gotten is enough to get what we want out of Kerry. I think it is."

Ronald Walters, a black political scientist at the University of Maryland and a former Jackson adviser, and other analysts disagree. They noted that Jackson went to the 1988 Democratic convention after winning nine states and more than 1,000 delegates. And even former New York congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president, got 120 delegates in 1972.

"Not having won many delegates, (Sharpton) can't really claim any national political power," Walters said.

Sharpton said the political climate has changed a lot in the 16 years since Jackson's last run, and it was unfair to compare him to his former mentor. However, he conceded that he initiated the comparisons.

"I was wrong to do that," he said. "A mature mind would have to say that comparing Sharpton to Jesse Jackson at his peak is like comparing Jackson to Dr. (Martin Luther) King at his peak. So fine, I did not get Jesse's numbers. But Jesse did not get a Nobel Peace Prize and a national holiday either."

Jackson was one of hundreds of black political leaders who attended a State of the Black World Conference in Atlanta in November 2001, where a major topic on the agenda was Sharpton's impending campaign. At the time, there was discussion about Sharpton expanding Jackson's base with the Rainbow Coalition and building a third party.

But some key organizers of the Atlanta event have been disappointed in Sharpton's performance. They complain that he mounted a disorganized presidential effort, spurned traditional campaign practices like showing up for scheduled events and squandered an opportunity to build momentum.

"Were he able to go to the convention in Boston with 200 to 300 delegates and 2 million to 3 million votes, there's no question it would have enhanced his status as the premier black political leader in America," said Ron Daniels, Jackson's deputy campaign manager in 1988.

Questionable ties

David Bositis, a political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black-oriented think tank, said it was folly for anyone to predict that Sharpton would ignite a groundswell of support for his candidacy even among black voters. He and other Sharpton observers noted that the civil rights activist's image still suffers from his background, such as his controversial association with Tawana Brawley, whose 1987 claim to have been gang-raped by white men turned out to be untrue.

"He was never going to do that well," Bositis said, "because he is not a figure that everybody in the black community looks up to."

Analysts said Sharpton's campaign also suffered from Democrats' desire to defeat President Bush, which helped propel Kerry to the top of the field.

"This is a new era in black politics. During the primaries, Sharpton held sway with black voters but did not bring as many as Reverend Jackson to his side or out to vote for him in key states," said Donna Brazile, a veteran black political consultant who ran Al Gore's 2000 campaign. "African Americans tended to vote as other Americans on electability or someone who can challenge and defeat President Bush in the fall."

Walters said the electability issue "overrode not just Sharpton but everybody else. This was not the right time to test Sharpton, because black voters were not in the mood for it."

Walters said Sharpton's credibility has been damaged by recent reports that Stone, who has worked for Presidents Nixon, Reagan and George W. Bush, has played a role in the activist's campaign. Walters said the relationship could impair Sharpton's negotiations with Kerry.

Sharpton said Stone is one of many political experts he consults. He accused his critics of employing a double standard, contending that they supported Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election bid even though the president had hired Dick Morris, who had previously worked with conservative Republicans Jesse Helms and Trent Lott, to run his campaign.

"If Roger Stone and I both have said that I talk to him from time to time like I talk to any other adviser, what is it am I supposed to explain?" Sharpton asked. "What am I doing to hurt Democrats?"

Money woes

Sharpton's campaign also has been hit with stories about his campaign spending and fund raising. The Federal Election Commission fined his campaign $5,500 in February for filing late disclosure reports. The agency has questioned more than $80,000 in loans Sharpton has made to his campaign but approved his request for $100,000 in matching funds on Thursday.

Meanwhile, critics have jumped on newspaper accounts of Sharpton staying at expensive hotels on campaign trips.

"The irony of that is you've had these critics of mine who've said Sharpton has used the campaign to live high on the hog," said Sharpton, who concedes he should have started his fund raising earlier. "Now, the question is whether the campaign used too much of my money, not whether I used too much of its money."

Records show that Sharpton raised $627,416 through Jan. 30, compared to Kerry's $33 million. The Sharpton campaign had just $1,039 available and was $485,697 in debt.

The records show Sharpton's campaign owes $38,000 to Kevin Gray, a South Carolina consultant, who worked for Jackson in 1988. Gray said he left Sharpton's campaign out of frustration over its lack of sophistication.

"Sharpton has no ideological content and no movement support," Gray said.

But for Mildred Galloway, a 69-year-old Detroit retiree, Sharpton has principle. And that was enough, she said, to win her vote in the Michigan caucus.

"He's honest, and he values life," Galloway said. "He has the poor people's concerns at heart."

The Rev. Horace Sheffield III, pastor at New Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, said Sharpton has been a refreshing voice among a field of vapid candidates.

"He does have something to say of value," said Sheffield, who runs National Action Network of Michigan. "Reverend Sharpton is a voice in the wilderness, the only one indicating we're in a period of loss not a period of gain."


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Sharpton's Sayonara

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2004; 8:52 AM

What exactly did Reverend Al accomplish with his presidential campaign?

He didn't win many votes, that's for sure--345 in New Hampshire, 1,885 in Delaware, 3,304 in Connecticut, 308 in Minnesota.

He was an afterthought at many of the debates, though usually the funniest guy on the stage.

It would be hard to argue that he brought much attention to his urban agenda.

When he didn't do well in his home state of New York, winning 8 percent of the vote, there were stories that he had damaged his local political career.

And he looked like he would keep running until the convention, or even past November.

But I would argue that Sharpton, who bowed out yesterday, got something out of his candidacy beside a lot of free air time.

I've been covering the guy since 1987, and if there's one thing he excels at, it's constantly reinventing himself.

What Sharpton did in this campaign was to soften his image. In speeches and interviews and debates, he sounded . . . reasonable.

Now, when people think of him, many won't immediately think of his botching of the Tawana Brawley case or other racially inflammatory behavior back home. (Too many reporters gave Sharpton a pass on his past conduct during this campaign, but then we all know that the press has the attention span of a toddler.)

Instead, they will probably view Sharpton as a guy who was able to stand on the national stage--and we'll see whether those rumors about him getting a talk show are true.

Now all Kerry has to do is vanquish Kucinich!

"Al Sharpton yesterday conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kerry, and while lauding the Massachusetts senator and vowing to support his candidacy, said he would continue to campaign for convention delegates to push an urban political agenda," says the Boston Globe.

"'I think that it's, in my judgment, bad strategically and bad for the country to engage in continuing to attack or in any way differentiate with him through the primaries that remain. It would only help George Bush,' the New York civil rights activist said after emerging from a 45-minute meeting with the presumptive Democratic nominee. . . .

"Sharpton had hoped to use his campaign to gain credibility within the Democratic Party, perhaps to wage a campaign for mayor of New York City.

"Sharpton placed third in the Feb. 3 South Carolina primary, where blacks typically make up a majority of voters, but he won just 8 percent of the vote in his native New York during the March 2 Super Tuesday primaries. In 1994, he won 25 percent of the vote in a campaign for the US Senate, while in 1997 he received 32 percent in New York's Democratic mayoral primary.

"He now says he is close to signing a contract to host a radio or cable television talk show."

I'm anxiously awaiting The Sharpton Factor!

The Los Angeles Times adds some needed context:

"More pragmatically, a senior Democratic operative noted, Sharpton's ongoing campaign will make him eligible for public matching funds and maintain his presence on the national stage.

"Sharpton has $600,000 in campaign debt, some of it money he has loaned his own campaign committee. Though federal election officials recently recommended that he receive $100,000 in matching funds, they also suggested they might not pay out the money if they found that Sharpton violated laws limiting what candidates can loan themselves.

"The onetime boy preacher has made a strong mark during the Democratic race with his highflying rhetoric and quick wit. Entertainment industry figures have said they think Sharpton's provocative debate performances have made him a salable commodity. He has hired an agent, who has begun discussions about the possible launch of a radio or television talk show, or even a 'reality' television show."
New York Daily News -
The News Interview

Wednesday, March 17th, 2004

Al Sharpton, who this week endorsed John Kerry but also said he will keep trying to win delegates, talks to the Editorial Board.

Question: In the New York primary, you got just 8% of the total vote and lost the black vote to Kerry. That's not much.

Answer: Unlike my other races in New York, I never opened an office, never ran an ad and didn't campaign in most of the districts because we had to cover 10 states in one day. We did very well, considering how front-loaded the primaries were. Would I like to have done better? Yes. Should we be ashamed? No. The fact that Kerry met with me to get my endorsement shows that.

Why not cede the field to Kerry now?

It's important we have delegates who will raise questions about the direction and the platform of the Democratic Party. I said I would support Kerry because I don't want to help George Bush or give an opening to Ralph Nader. But there are issues we need to address in the urban agenda.

What is your urban agenda?

Look at public education and the fact that most students are not learning. Look at the racial disparity in math and English scores. Look at health care and how it's dispensed. Look at the problem of employment: 48% of black males in New York City are unemployed. Look at day care, foster care and police-community relations. If this party is going to win, it must address the concerns of those citizens to get them to vote.

Has this run for the White House hurt you?

No one can say I'm not more nationally known. And after the meeting with Kerry, no one can say I'm not respected by the national party.

What's your role at the convention?

I'm not concerned with the role as much as with the platform, the makeup of the campaign and what it will stand for. I will probably be accepting offers to host a syndicated radio and TV show. I am committed to try to be an alternative to Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly.

Your campaign is dogged by questions about its financing and lavish spending and is being investigated by the Federal Election Commission for possible violations.

The FEC is investigating not whether I lived off the campaign but whether the campaign spent too much of my personal money. It's already said there's nothing against rules in using five-star hotels for fund-raisers and staying where we stayed.

Have the media treated you fairly?

Absolutely not. There was a tinge of racism, as if I wasn't supposed to go downtown. I was running for President, not king of the ghetto. The media knew that if I threw fund-raisers at five-star hotels it was no different than other candidates having fund-raisers at elaborate places.

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