At Each Other's Throats

Political retribution in Harlem in the wake of the Million Youth March

Not only will Bill Perkins constantly be harangued by his constituents over his bitter opposition to the Million Youth March, he will be repudiated for his alliance with Alan Hevesi, who marched behind a racist float in a Labor Day parade in the remote island community of Beach Channel, Queens. A group of white men, including two city firefighters and a police officer, wore blackface and Afro-style and dreadlock wigs on the float that featured a banner reading, "Black to the Future 2098." (Hevesi later denied he was aware that the float was part of the parade.)Some of the participants were caught on videotape mocking the dragging death of a black man in Jasper, Texas, last June.

"I think there will be a lot of talk about changing a lot of people, but it will come down to Bill Perkins," says a black political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity.

C. Virginia Fields could also be harmed by vengeful insurgents and an unforgiving black electorate. Some speculate that Fields, who won a contentious Democratic primary against Deborah Glick, will be challenged by another progressive white candidate for the borough presidency. Without maximum black turnout she'll lose.

Conrad: May challenge Councilman Bill Perkins
Michael Sofronski
Conrad: May challenge Councilman Bill Perkins

"If Conrad Muhammad and Al Sharpton and others keep their word to mount a massive voter registration drive that will translate into an electoral movement, there is no way that Bill Perkins and C. Virginia Fields would not pay a penalty," the analyst says.

The inevitable questions about Sharpton's role in the drive to mobilize black voters to pick new representatives for the millennium were not long in coming. Less than 48 hours after the violent end to the march, the self-styled "mayor of New York in exile" rounded up battered politicians like Paterson, Fields, and Perkins, who seemed eager to alert their constituents that things were back to normal. One Sharpton aide says that the politicians, particularly Paterson, had nowhere to turn but to the city's major civil rights leader.

"That's why they ran up here and posed with Al Sharpton for the cameras," says the aide. "Why would you have such an adamant position against the march, call for Khallid's arrest--and then overnight you're sitting up in the House of Justice with Al Sharpton asif you hadn't realized that the wrath of the community was coming down on you?"

Another political observer not affiliated with the Sharpton camp intimated that Sharpton's stewardship only proved that the minister was trying to defend Khallid's conduct at the march. "Sharpton tried to use the politicians to take the heat off of Khallid Muhammad and they tried to use Sharpton to take the heat off of them," the operative says.

Some assert that Sharpton may be doing what any savvy politico in his position would do: keeping his options open by coalescing with the beleaguered black elected officials. Ultimately, others say, he will realize that none of those politicians will support him for mayor, and he must reproach them.

"It's only a matter of time before Al Sharpton says, 'All right, we're together. I'm running for mayor, will you endorse me?' " one analyst predicts. "When Bill Perkins and C. Virginia Fields say, 'I can't,' Sharpton then puts his machinery behind Conrad Muhammad. Ultimately, Al Sharpton will do what's in his interest. How can he be with Bill Perkins and C.Virginia Fields when they are not going to be with him?"

The imbroglio gets more nasty when political watchdogs eye Sharpton's ties to David Paterson. Is Sharpton protecting Paterson?

"Sharpton and Paterson are using each other," a critic of Sharpton contends. "Paterson is trying to regain credibility by associating himself with Sharpton. Sharpton asked Paterson not to push for the arrest of Khallid."

Paterson, the deputy minority leader of the senate, who is running unopposed in the November elections, knows that Sharpton could have a tremendous impact on his reelection campaign in 2001. If, as one Sharpton aide put it, a credible candidate emerges against the senator and "took the right positions," Sharpton would be hard-pressed to support Paterson because members of his grassroots network would rebel. "In the end, Sharpton is providing comfort for comfort."

And what about Sharpton's tenuous relationship with Charlie Rangel? One aide to the minister put it this way: "Reverend Sharpton has helped Rangel with the Apollo Theatre controversy. Rangel has helped Sharpton with Tawana Brawley. But there is nothing Rangel could do to hurt Sharpton. It's the other way around. Sharpton sits and waits. Rangel, who did not support Sharpton for mayor the last time, and may not support him in 2001, has to try to make overtures to Sharpton."

Rangel and other old guard lawmakers in Harlem also may be compelled to make overtures to "Generation neXt" politicians like Conrad Muhammad, who has embarked on what he touts as a "one million black and Latino, urban youth, hip hop, voters registration drive." With that kind of power, Conrad boasts that the "hip hop generation can influence the political process like never before."

At the rally for CHHANGE, Conrad announced that his group will run a slate of rapper candidates in local races "because I know [they] won't sell out in the city council." He has floated the idea of recruiting "young, strong brothers like Onyx [for] the Democratic Party" and also is negotiating with KRS One. "We're talking to him," he said. "We need to get him to run . . . so hip hop can be represented in the city council."

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