The Battle for Harlem

Sharpton Camp Assails Butts as Upstate Republicans Maneuver To Exploit Black Power Struggle

Butts has renovated several units of low-income housing, won contracts to restore landmark Harlem businesses like Small's Paradise and the Renaissance Ballroom, and is also credited with muting community opposition to the construction of a Pathmark supermarket. Some speculate that Butts, who has said he "wrestles with the idea of whether or not to go into politics," has been reinforcing his political connections all along.

"It's a genuine quest," he maintains, "and it looks more and more like I would do it."

On April 12, demonstrators with placards touting "Butts for Congress" and "It's Time for a Change" showed up outside the Sharpton-led community hearing in Harlem. "Whoever did it made Butts look foolish," said a longtime admirer of the minister. "It didn't help Butts at all." A perennially rumored candidate for political office, Butts emphatically denied that he had organized the demonstration or was planning to challenge Rangel, who has been in Congress since 1970.

"Those signs were not mine. Whoever did it was trying to sabotage me," insisted Butts. "Charles Rangel himself knows that I've said when I'm ready to run, before I make a public announcement, I would sit down and tell him first. I'm not going to go out there and plant little bombs near him or try to implicate him in something."

The fact that Butts has not formally announced that he won't challenge Rangel may explain why the issue remains so sensitive to Manhattan borough president C. Virginia Fields and State Senator David Paterson (Basil Paterson's son), who will not challenge Rangel because of their reverence for the elder statesman--although they are waiting in the wings to succeed him when he retires.

Said one old-guard politician: "I told someone what Butts ought to do is prepare himself, because Charlie will not be running all his life. The people he will be up against are Virginia Fields and David Paterson. Charlie is not his enemy, they are. They are the new generation when Charlie is gone."

"I'm not going to run against Charlie now, but it does look like there is a strong possibility that I would go for the mayor's seat," Butts revealed.

That prospect is seen as a far more serious danger by his opponents. "It's making some folk upset because they think they got some kind of magic hold on who runs for mayor," the minister asserted. "I don't think it's Percy or Charlie. Some people have mentioned some [names] to me, but I'm not interested in dignifying these people by mentioning [their names]."

Some of Butts's allies are not so evasive, and point to the usual suspect--Al Sharpton, whose sights are already locked on the 2001 mayoral race. It's no secret that the frosty relations between the two civil rights leaders grew colder in January after New York magazine juxtaposed their pictures on its cover, posing the question, "Which Would You Choose, Dr. King?" while asserting, "Calvin Butts Challenges the Old Model of Black Leadership in the City."

Saving the Apollo will reflect the real dynamics of uptown's collective political leadership. The theater is "an emotional and geographic anchor for Harlem's primary commercial corridor along 125th Street," declared the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand in a 1991 analysis. "Closing . . . the Apollo would be the last nail in the coffin for Harlem's development," the firm warned.

At least Randy Daniels is on record pledging to keep the mecca of black music open. "Let me say unequivocally . . . that New York State will not allow the Apollo to close," Daniels wrote to Sharpton and Reverend Wyatt Tee Walker, who co-chaired the community hearing on the Apollo, which Daniels was advised against attending. "The jobs of Apollo staff will be safe when we make sure that money due the Apollo is paid. We want a license agreement for 'Showtime at the Apollo' that is fair and equitable to the Apollo Theater."

For Daniels's critics, it seemed an odd thing to demand after Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, and others insisted that the current arrangement produced no income until last year, when the Inner City Theater Group paid the Apollo $250,000. Some politically motivated employees are pushing for Rangel to either seek the remainder of the money reportedly owed to the theater or resign from the foundation. Any solution requires the support of Rangel and Sutton, both of whom Daniels and the Republican interlopers are dubious about embracing.

Research assistance: Linda DiProperzio

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