By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Given a choice between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Al "Grandpa" Lewis, whom would Al Sharpton endorse for the U.S. Senate? Randy Credico, campaign manager for Lewisthe cigar-chomping, blunt-speaking TV star and political activist who is the Green Party candidatesays Sharpton has been dodging the question. For several months, Credico has been feuding behind the scenes with the city's top civil rights activist about his muted criticism of the Democratic nominee.
Sharpton fired back, accusing Credico of bumrushing him for an endorsement of the 90-year-old Lewis, who ran for governor on the Green ticket in 1998 and received nearly 50,000 votes. "What he wants me to do is give a blanket endorsement of Grandpa at this early stage," says Sharpton of Credico, an in-your-face comedian who was a gadfly associate of the late radical attorney William Kunstler. Lewis derived his nickname from his role on the hit TV show The Munsters and was featured in the top-rated series Car 54, Where Are You? He and Credico have rejected calls from former mayor David Dinkins to stop playing the spoiler and quit bashing Mrs. Clinton.
"Credico is attacking Mrs. Clinton because his candidate is competing against her," insists Sharpton, leader of the Harlem-based National Action Network. "I am the only one with no direct political gain, and the only major black figure in New York who has taken Mrs. Clinton to task."
Credico contends that Sharpton has not gone far enough in explaining to the voter-rich black electorate why they should be upset with Mrs. Clinton. He has been pressing Sharpton to criticize Mrs. Clinton more consistentlyand harshlyabout some of her controversial positions. According to Credico, black voters should know about political skeletons in the first lady's closet. For example, are blacks aware:
(Asked to comment on the criticisms, a Clinton campaign aide told the Voicethe candidate "will not take the black vote for granted. She will not take any vote for granted.")
Credico says he told Sharpton's aides that the minister "looked unsavory and unsophisticated when he sucked up" to Mrs. Clinton during her historic King Day visit to his House of Justice in Harlem. "She should be begging him for a forum," he rails. "He looked too eager." Credico claims that last September, Sharpton "promised" to invite Lewis to participate in his series of popular forums at which politicians and candidates are grilled by Sharpton's constituents. "It's been seven months now, and he has yet to give Grandpa a forum."
Some of Sharpton's closest advisers have been telling him all along that Mrs. Clinton is evasive and insincere. And now, it appears, Credico's barbs about Sharpton's relationship with Mrs. Clinton have struck a nerve in the usually outspoken black advocacy activist. Or is it coincidence? Last Friday, within hours of Giuliani's withdrawal from the Senate race, Sharpton was poised to emerge as a threat to Mrs. Clinton's political legitimacy in the African American community.
On the eve of his weekly Saturday morning rally, Sharpton told the Voice that he would caution Mrs. Clinton against taking black voters for granted. Sharpton theorizes that without "a volatile, polarizing opponent" like Giuliani to inspire maximum black turnout at the polls, Mrs. Clinton's coronation by African Americans would be imperiled. To ward off apathy, he says, she must break her silence about key concerns that Giuliani's controversial stewardship has propelled to the top of the black activist agenda.