The Unfinished Mayoralty

David Dinkins Bares His Soul About Mark Green, Al Sharpton, a Black-Latino Coalition, Crown Heights, Rudy Giuliani, and His Own Legacy

Former mayor David Dinkins, who is supporting public advocate Mark Green for mayor, denied he twisted Al Sharpton's arm about an endorsement of Green when he visited Sharpton in federal prison last week.

"That's not true," said the city's first black mayor, who met with Sharpton for about 20 minutes on July 31 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, where Sharpton is serving a 90-day sentence for protesting naval exercises on Vieques island in Puerto Rico. "He will tell you that the campaign was not mentioned at all. Zero! You can't twist Al Sharpton's arm," Dinkins reiterated. "I didn't twist [Manhattan Democratic county leader] Denny Farrell's arm before he came out for Mark Green. He was with Mark Green while I was still considering what to do."

Dinkins's visit first raised concerns among some panelists on The Week in Review, a popular, black-oriented talk show that airs every Sunday night on WRKS-FM. Former New Jersey judge Bob Pickett, the only conservative member on the panel, had "learned from reliable sources" that Dinkins went to the prison as an emissary of Green. Others argued that Dinkins's mission was either to get the nod for Green or at least force Sharpton to make up his mind about who he will endorse. An aide said Sharpton was mourning the sudden death over the weekend of former Abner Louima attorney Carl W. Thomas, and could not comment.

Dinkins's endorsement of Green came during a wide-ranging interview with the Voice about his views on the mayoral race, Sharpton, a black-Latino coalition, Crown Heights, Rudy Giuliani, and Dinkins's own controversial legacy.

The former mayor denounced others who might speculate that his endorsement of Green was political payback to Ferrer.

On Green's chances of becoming the city's next mayor, Dinkins bragged, "He can get elected. It is no wonder to me that he is so far in front of everybody else." Dinkins said he appears in a series of Green campaign radio and TV commercials that have not yet been scheduled for airing. "Mark was one of my commissioners, and I have faith in him," offered Dinkins, whose endorsement surprised some African Americans and Latinos who are seeking to elect Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer the city's first Latino mayor. "I hope they'll say, 'Well, Dinkins likes him, maybe we ought to take another look.' " Observers say the most successful endorsements of the mayoral campaign so far have been those designed to get across a specific message—such as Green's endorsement this spring by former police commissioner William Bratton. "Just like Al Sharpton has some influence, presumably your humble servant has some influence in the African American community," Dinkins said.

But not all endorsements carry the same weight. And most political observers agree that Sharpton's nod is one of the few that really matters. "Sharpton gets a certain number of votes when he runs," Maurice Carroll, the director of the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute, told the Associated Press. "His endorsement doesn't get nearly as many, but it matters." Ferrer, who is trying to make history with a black-Latino coalition, has gotten the nod of state comptroller H. Carl McCall, New York's highest-ranking black elected official. That makes Sharpton's endorsement all the more critical to Ferrer, whose political future could hang on it. To some, Ferrer is the clear front-runner for Sharpton's endorsement. But the civil rights leader has played a waiting game, stretching out the process long after he was scheduled to make an announcement. (The delay is due partly to Sharpton's imprisonment.) The activist has told the Voice who he will endorse. He will make the announcement after he is released from prison on August 17. So Ferrer still waits, hoping a Sharpton endorsement will help him build a coalition of minority voters.

"If he does support Freddie, I am sure that will help Freddie," scoffed Dinkins. "I'm just saying that to suggest that all the blacks are gonna be with Freddie in a black-Puerto Rican coalition in that sense cannot be, for the reason that you know well," Dinkins added. "People talk about a black-Latino coalition and that's terrific, if there were such an animal." He reminded backers of such a coalition that two of the four major county leaders—Denny Farrell and Brooklyn Democratic county boss Clarence Norman, both of whom are black—are not supporting Ferrer. Norman is supporting city comptroller Alan Hevesi, and Farrell is backing Green. "Some might accuse me of having harmed that coalition, but I say, 'What coalition?' " asked Dinkins. "There was no coalition!"

The former mayor denounced others who might speculate that his endorsement of Green was political payback to Ferrer. On May 6, during a televised debate, the mayoral candidates were asked which of the previous three mayors they would now vote for. Green unhesitatingly chose Dinkins; Ferrer did not articulate a choice. At the time, Dinkins said he did "not hold that against Freddie." He emphasized that position again in the Voice interview: "Freddie called me after the debate and explained how it had occurred, how he had not had the opportunity to fully respond. I said, 'OK, I accept that.' I did not make my choice of Green based on Freddie's statement about who he'd support." But some say Dinkins has been holding a political grudge against Latinos for 24 years.

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