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Yvette Clarke, who took a leave of absence to focus on her campaign, says she does not begrudge Thomas's early lock on support from Sharpton as long as campaign observers understand that like Thomas, she too has a unique relationship with one of the city's most powerful politicians. "Instead of holding a forum to select the best candidate, Reverend Sharpton has chosen to throw his support behind someone he is familiar with," Clarke points out. "The way that Reverend Sharpton believes in Carl Thomas is the same way that Fernando Ferrer, based on my performance in overseeing economic development in the Bronx for the past five years, believes in my candidacy."
Clarke says that Ferrer's disapproval of race-based endorsements by Sharpton does not contradict his support for her, since the 10 candidates vying for her mother's seat are all African Americans. "What Reverend Sharpton is saying in this case is that he has a preferenceCarl Thomasand that is totally different from the allegation that Reverend Sharpton wants Fernando Ferrer to support only black candidates of his choice," Clarke explains. "Reverend Sharpton is saying, 'I have a preferred candidate who happens to be black.' "
Thomas argues that Sharpton has "risen above race," reminding the reverend's critics that when he demanded that Ferrer endorse black candidates for comptroller and borough president, he also backed Norman Siegel, the former executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, who is Jewish, for public advocate. "The fact that he is supporting Norman Siegel demonstrates how progressive he is," says Thomas. "Many of Reverend Sharpton's critics are themselves stuck in a race-baiting analysis of his widening impact on ethnic politics in the city."
One of those critics is Jack Newfield, the New York Post columnist who, because he can no longer trust Sharpton to do his bidding, is behaving like a brat. For years, wannabe white political bosses like Newfield have tried to ram their handpicked leaders down the throats of the African American collective. In his column on Monday, headlined "Rev. Al Trickster, the 'Source' of Lies," Newfield whines about letting down his guard and allowing a sucker like Sharpton to manipulate him. In retaliation, Newfield did what no self-respecting journalist would do: He burned his source. "In 35 years in the newspaper business, I have never disclosed a source," Newfield writes. "But todayand never againI have to break that rule. Al Sharpton was my source for my column that disclosed he had promised to endorse Fernando Ferrer for mayor. I am reporting this only because I've been listening to Sharpton say all week that Ferrer was my source."
So Sharpton threw a wrench into Newfield's plan to tell the city's blacks who their next mayor should be. And for this he is vilified as "the trickster responsible for the Tawana Brawley hoax, for calling a Jewish shopkeeper in Harlem a 'white interloper,' and for other cons and confusions."
How dare Don King's errand boy step out of line? "After several years working to improve his reputation and leading the integrated, nonviolent Diallo protests, Sharpton has reverted back to type," Newfield rants. "He's just a con man who keeps changing reality as he goes alongrefusing ever to give up center stage. Sharpton was on his way to improving his credibility. Now he has thrown it all away trying to become a deal-making political boss."
The reality, counters Carl Thomas, is that Sharpton "has evolved into a formidable, independent-thinking leader" who might not always follow a script. "Today, he represents the plight of the underprivileged, who come in all colors," Thomas asserts. "Some people resent that."
Thomas, who was the first black to be appointed to the board of the Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, says Sharpton backed his decision to fight to keep the word Jewish as part of the old hospital's name. The facility, located at Schenectady Avenue and Rutland Road, was founded more than 70 years ago as the Jewish Sanitarium for Incurables. Today, nearly 80 percent of its patients are black. "Reverend Sharpton recognized its historical significance," says Thomas. "Like me, he felt it should be preserved."
Sharpton says the fact that he lives in the 40th Council District, only a few blocks from Thomas's home, stiffens his resolve to stick with his neighbor. "It's personal," he reiterates. "The 70th Precinct is a half-mile from my home, and if another Justin Volpe should come knocking on my door, Carl Thomas will know what to do. What's wrong with placing my trust in someone who I believe will represent me, my wife, and my two daughters?"