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Sharpton contends that it will take a coalition of black and Latino voters, plus progressive whites, to put Fernando Ferrer in City Hall. "This movement to make Ferrer the first Latino mayor is not built on race," he offers. "We didn't just discover that Ferrer was Puerto Rican. When I saw people who had no common political agenda before coalescing around Diallo and Vieques, I saw the making of a new kind of movement that their leaders would have to catch up to. If we put a real alliance in place, it would last beyond this election, into the 2002 gubernatorial race, the 2004 presidential race, and on and on."
In the days before Sharpton was jailed, he had been delaying a decision on whether to endorse Ferrer. Once he was imprisoned, he vowed not to make any political endorsements from behind bars because he did not want to take attention away from mounting protests against the Navy's bombing exercises on Vieques. But Sharpton entertained several visits from Rangel, one of the city's most influential black politicians, whom he'd kept in the dark about who he would line up behind. Last week, Rangel said he and others had been "thinking about not getting involved, sitting this one out and not participating," but noted, "Our families, our friends have fought, have been arrested, have been persecuted, and they died to participate." He said he decided to back Ferrer "because he's a fighter and he doesn't run away from a problem." He also derided those who have balked at supporting Ferrer because of a perception that he has no broad coalition of support and can't win. "Well, who the heck are we in this great city of New York if we're not a coalition: white and black, Jews and gentiles, Hispanics and others coming together for a better city?" Rangel asked.
Sharpton says now that he helped Rangel marshal black support for Ferrer. "He asked me how I felt about Ferrer, how I felt about Green," Sharpton recalls. "I told Rangel I had not decided, but that I felt that it was important that we not deal just from a black and Latino point of view but from a progressive point of view. Eventually, I was part of the strategy that once Rangel had made up his mindthat he was going to reach out to influential black elected officials to get behind FerrerI would not do a joint endorsement with them."
The mayoral race has caused a garrulous split among the city's black leadership. Public Advocate Mark Green has won the backing of David Dinkins, the city's first black mayor; Reverend Calvin Butts, an influential Harlem minister; and community activist Fernando Mateo. City Comptroller Alan Hevesi has been campaigning at churches and other locations with police torture victim Abner Louima.
Despite endorsements from Louima and Reverend Floyd Flake, one of the city's most powerful pastors, Hevesi trails badly among black and Latino voters. In February, he drew criticism from the black community for failing to actively protest the fatal police shooting of Amadou Diallo last year. He was booed off the stage at a memorial service for Diallo, and was asked about his lack of action at a Martin Luther King Day event at the Harlem headquarters of Sharpton's National Action Network. Pointing out that he has disagreed with Sharptonwhom he has called divisive and destructiveHevesi said that in the aftermath of the protests he spent time looking into charges of police misconduct and harassment of blacks. "I didn't get it. I got it later," he said at the time.
But Flake, a moderate Democrat, who served in Congress for 10 years, and who is now pastor of the Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in southeast Queens, cited Hevesi's "intelligence, tenacity, and ability." He joked: "I have always called him my associate Jewish member because he's there (at my church) so often." Flake's endorsement of Hevesi was meant as a signal to some African American voters that Hevesi is an acceptable option. The reasoning is that because Flake's congregation is highly energized, the pastor's endorsement is likely to translate into higher vote totals and positive referrals to friends and neighbors who do not belong to Flake's 10,000-member church.
A group called Friends of Hevesi has been stuffing mailboxes in southeast Queens with a brochure bearing pictures of 10 black elected officials. "Why are we all united behind Democrat Alan Hevesi for mayor?" begs the question that is printed in bold letters below mugshots of city councilmembers Helen Marshall, Archie Spigner, Thomas White Jr., and Juanita Watkins; assemblymembers Vivian Cook, Jeffrion Aubry, Barbara Clark, William Scarborough, and Pauline Rhodd Cummings; and State Senator Ada Smith.
Sharpton released a letter he received from a Queens resident who had been solicited by Hevesi's camp. "Like most of us, I was disgusted with the Louima endorsement of Hevesi," wrote the voter, who is black. "I simply do not understand. And when I received [the brochure] the other day, I was just plain angry. . . . We will wait and take our direction from you." The letter, Sharpton claims, is typical of how some African Americans feel about other blacks who support Hevesi. He says Louima visited him in prison twice and talked in a cryptic way about Hevesi.