On a New High, Sharpton Hits a New Low

TV's Democratic minister of 'moral values' takes a hypocritical plunge

On the eve of the publication of this story, The Village Voice received an extraordinary letter signed by the two attorneys most closely associated with Reverend Al Sharpton, Michael Hardy and Sanford Rubenstein. Promising "to pursue all legal remedies" if the story appeared, the letter spelled out what it said was "a false allegation" involving Sharpton's wife of 23 years, Kathy Sharpton, noting that the Voice had "been informed" of this allegation by "several individuals." Then it warned that publishing "any story which talks about false allegations of Rev. Sharpton and not false allegations regarding Ms. Sharpton would demonstrate your actionable malice towards Rev. Sharpton."

In an effort to protect himself from the scandal detailed here, Al Sharpton is apparently willing to use his wife as a shield, even if it means making her a target. He has had his highs in this city—his organization of the Diallo protests in Giuliani time, for example—but now, at this moment of his greatest national prominence, he has sunk to a new low.

This story will not examine any allegation about Kathy Sharpton, though sources close to Sharpton, directly and through others, did "inform" us of one. This is the story of Al Sharpton gone wild.

illustration: Stanley Martucci and Cheryl Griesbach



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  • In the lawyers' letter, Sharpton reveals that he has not lived with his wife and two daughters in their enormous Brooklyn mansion since April 2003, when the couple agreed to "terminate their marriage." This flies in the face of repeated claims during his year and a half of presidential hoopla—especially one as recently as July 2004, when he rebutted a Daily News item about an alleged other woman by insisting that "Kathy has been my rock and always will be." The self-described "grassroots activist" now says through lawyers that he "moved" to the luxurious Helmsley Carlton, though he told reporters who caught him there earlier this year that it was merely an easy place to lay his head while on the campaign trail. But this story is not about a pol concealing an unraveled marriage until a press announcement of separation exactly two days after the election.

    Sharpton's is a saga of hypocrisy more than hanky-panky. It is the tale of how he helped engineer the demise of his mentor, Jesse Jackson, who had an affair with the executive director of his nonprofit organization and showered her with benefits, even while Sharpton was sending every signal to those around him that he was doing the same. Of course, Sharpton denies that he had anything to do with the fusillade of baby and other stories fired at Jackson in the beginning of 2001. And his lawyers began their December 2 letter with the declaration that any claim that the Sharpton separation "was based upon any extra-marital affairs or infidelity on the part of Rev. Sharpton is false," as is the "rumor" that he had one.

    This story will spotlight four individuals close to Sharpton who helped expose Jackson, instantly catapulting Sharpton to the top ranks of African American leadership. (See "What Al Did to Jesse"). While it is virtually impossible to establish that an intimate relationship existed without confirmation from a party, a compelling case can be made that Sharpton appeared to engage in one with Marjorie Harris (also known as Marjorie Fields-Harris), the executive director of his National Action Network and the woman named in two Daily News gossip pieces.

    After beginning a Voice phone interview that revolved around the alleged affair, the 40-year-old Harris rushed off the line abruptly without answering questions about it, and never returned a series of Voice messages. Her separate legal letter, signed only by Rubenstein, made no reference to the charge. She did concede that she left her husband of nearly two years in April 2003—at the same moment Sharpton left Kathy—but insisted that she didn't "know anything about him leaving home."

    What does any of it matter? Ironically, with all of this intrigue circulating just beneath the surface, Sharpton has made himself into some sort of national religious figure, asking on Meet the Press just a week ago: "All of us are talking about whether God is on our side. Are we really on God's side?" He and Jerry Falwell have squared off four times on national television—immediately before and after the election—as the embodiment of the moral values of their respective parties.

    Indeed, after collecting a puny fraction of the delegates that Jesse Jackson and Shirley Chisholm won in their presidential campaigns, Sharpton has miraculously repackaged himself as a combination Spike TV reality star, supposed candidate for the helm of the NAACP, kingmaker within the Democratic National Committee, and telegenic conscience of the left. For New Yorkers who know our most famous reverend well, watching him on display as a post-election ethical compass, representing Democratic values, is the final sick joke in a year when we thought Karl Rove already had the last laugh.

    Having been interviewed by the Voice about Harris et al. before his Tim Russert appearance, the usually synthetic Sharpton behaved as if he couldn't get his real life out of his mind. In response to Russert's abortion question, Sharpton inexplicably trailed off into a bizarre monologue about the breakup of his own marriage, which he said had "just ended a couple of years ago," a seeming contradiction in time. Not skipping a beat, he then invoked the name of Marjorie Fields-Harris without so much as identifying his obscure executive director, citing her as an example of how "we" are "building a new party" to, among other things, "protect American values."

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