By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Ending several months of intense media speculation about his jealously guarded choice for mayor, Reverend Al Sharpton, the city's most prominent civil rights leader, told the Voice he will endorse Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer.
"Ferrer has been right on the torturous issues of police brutality and racial profiling," Sharpton said in an exclusive interview with the Voice, just hours after he was released last Friday from a federal prison in Brooklyn after serving a 90-day sentence for trespassing during a protest of U.S. Navy bombing exercises on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
"Ferrer went to jail with us during the 'Day of Outrage' protests over the murder of Amadou Diallo; he said that the Diallo cops should have been fired; and he stood up for the family of Anthony Baez, who was choked to death by a racist cop. There is no doubt in my mind we are on the verge of creating history: Fernando Ferrer will be the first Latino mayor of New York City."
Sharpton, who on Monday announced the formation of a committee to explore the possibility of a run for the U.S. presidency in 2004, nearly forced a runoff in his own bid for mayor four years ago. He will make a formal endorsement of Ferrer shortly before Labor Day.
Sharpton has delayed Ferrer's coronation for several reasons. Among them:
That the activist, whose blessing has been sought by a wide range of candidates, was working out a compromise so that Ferrer, according to one Sharpton aide, will not "aggressively campaign against" candidates that Sharpton has endorsed. Sharpton, as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert put it, "casually lobbed a race-based grenade into the Ferrer camp" last May when he declared that Ferrer would have to agree in advance to support some black political candidates in exchange for his endorsement. In Brooklyn, Sharpton is trying to protect candidates like Charles Barron, an outspoken community activist who is running for the City Council from Brownsville, and Jeanette Gadson, the deputy borough president of Brooklyn, who is vying to become Brooklyn's first black borough president. In Queens, Sharpton is seeking to shore up the candidacy of Erica Ford, a young insurgent with fire in her belly, who is running for the City Council in the 27th District. As of late Monday, negotiations were bogged down over self-interested demands. For example, both sides could not agree on whether Congressman Edolphus Towns, who is supporting Ferrer, can put out campaign literature indicating his endorsement of Ferrer and a City Council candidate other than the one Sharpton is backing.
That Sharpton does not want the endorsement to distract from his August 25 "Keep the Dream Alive" civil rights rally at the United Nations, commemorating the 38th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 march on Washington. "No candidate will be allowed to speak at the march," Sharpton has decreed. "We must keep the focus on Vieques for now. It is our firm belief that Dr. King, who led a huge demonstration in front of the United Nations protesting military involvement in Vietnam, would have approved of us leading a massive protest outside the same building against the U.S. military's unconscionable role in Vieques. It is a straight moral line from protesting about Vietnam to protesting about Vieques."
With the rally out of the way, Sharpton will turn his attention to Ferrer. "Soon after the march, I intend to make my endorsement of Fernando Ferrer," emphasized the reverend, who will devote 18 days to campaigning for the candidate in mostly black and Latino neighborhoods, and plans to do radio ads, some in Spanish, and voice-mail pitches.
Sharpton revealed that he was leaning toward endorsing the pro-African American Green but had backed off when Green accepted the endorsement of former police commissioner William Bratton. According to Sharpton, Green hinted that Bratton would play a prominent role in his administration. "Green sort of indicated that Bill Bratton might be police commissioner once again," said Sharpton. "Bill Bratton, whom I've come to know, is the same Bill Bratton who was police commissioner when Anthony Baez was killed; he is the same Bill Bratton who refused to meet with me when [Nation of Islam] Mosque Number 7 in Harlem asked me to mediate after cops raided their temple; he is the same Bill Bratton who fired a police officer who shot a dog in Central Park, but who said he would not have fired the four police officers who killed Diallo. The thought that we might return to a Bratton-type police department was my biggest problem with Mark Green. Other than that he would be more appealing."
Sharpton joins a coalition of Harlem-based politicians who have endorsed Ferrer, including Congressman Charles Rangel, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Assemblyman Keith Wright, and Councilman Bill Perkins. Their endorsements came on the same day that Sharpton was released from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. With no black politician running for mayor, Ferrer and his three white opponents in the September 11 Democratic primary have been scrambling to align themselves with key figures in the black community, a constituency that could help decide a winner in a crowded field.