On a New High, Sharpton Hits a New Low

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

This stream of consciousness was designed to promote Harris's behind-the-scenes candidacy for DNC vice chair, but it also suggested that even on Sunday morning's top talk show, Sharpton had a hard time discussing his doomed marriage without mentioning Marjorie Harris. Claiming retroactively that his marriage "ended" two years ago, of course, muddies the waters about what he's been doing since, and five Voice visits to Kathy Sharpton's dark Flatbush home provoked no supporting or contrary information. A visit to Harris's herringbone floored apartment complex at the Heritage at Trump Place—"towering over the Hudson River" with its own health spa, pool, gym, salon, interior garden, and theater—earned us the Rubenstein warning letter that a harassment complaint would be filed against us, but she refused to get on the concierge phone.

"If I was a black woman living in a urine-stained apartment in Harlem, you would not be writing this story," Harris told the Voice later in the abbreviated interview that did occur. "You have a problem with a black woman living in a Trump building." She confirmed that she bought a new Cadillac and Mercedes in 2002, but declined to discuss her sources of income, which include her undisclosed salary as Sharpton's top aide at the nonprofit NAN and any earnings from a for-profit political consulting firm she's formed, the Fields-Harris Group.

Strangely enough, it was Falwell in the TV debate who boasted that he operated a home for unwed mothers, an AIDS hospice, an adoption program, and a clinic for drug addicts, all in tiny Lynchburg, Virginia. When he asked if Sharpton was "involved" in even one similar effort, the reverend who's never had a church, or run a substantive social program, changed the subject. Indeed, when Sharpton made the most celebrated speech of his career at the Democratic convention in July, he mentioned the only program NAN pretends to currently run—its voter registration campaign—thereby managing to work into another prime-time appearance the name of its director, the same Marjorie Harris.

illustration: Stanley Martucci and Cheryl Griesbach

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  • He saluted Barack Obama and Congressman Greg Meeks as well, saying they and Harris were three young black leaders working "in the trenches" who embody "strong family values" and had "to make nothing stretch into something" to "make ends meet." He also mentioned Kathy and the kids, though his longtime aide Dedrick Muhammed says Sharpton took them to a car after the speech and put them on a plane back to NY. He, Harris, and other aides had rooms on the same floor of the convention hotel, and they went to Democratic parties that night.

    Harris's registration efforts, by the way, consist largely of an 877 helpline number that simply gives callers with questions NAN's number, an occasional card table at a shopping center, and radio commercials Harris made herself. She didn't even register in New York until August 2001, almost two years after she joined NAN, and the city election board says they do no work with her organization. With so much energy spent on bluster at NAN, there has long been little left for actual programs.

    The importance of Sharpton, however, is as symbol. He has surfaced in every major NY race for decades, and it is certain he will attempt to influence the 2005 mayoral, having already claimed in his memoir, Al on America, that he made Mike Bloomberg mayor in 2001. Despite failing to hit double digits in any state primary (he did in DC), he has never cut so grand a national figure, indicating now that he may run for president in 2008 and announcing in September that NAN, the black caucus, and Bill Cosby were launching a campaign to "bring black families together." All this means he should occasionally be held to the same standards routinely applied to other leaders.

    The mystery of the Sharpton/Harris relationship starts with her ex-husband, Basil Smikle, who finally got a divorce in September 2003, six months after she left their Harlem apartment on 147th Street. An aide to Senator Hillary Clinton at the time of their marriage in 2001, Smikle now runs his own consulting business. After meeting Harris in Sharpton's office in January 2000 during the Clinton campaign, he proposed to her within two months. But by that September, while preparing for the wedding, he discovered what a close friend of his told the Voice were "e-mails with Sharpton that raised eyebrows." On her personal e-mail—kindofblue1964@yahoo.com—he saw a message to Sharpton about how the relationship with Basil wasn't going well. Referring to Sharpton as her "soulmate," the e-mail promised that "things" would be back to normal soon, adding that she loved him. In another e-mail she received on her Palm Pilot, Sharpton made reference to his need to "release bodily fluids."


    When Smikle confronted Harris about these e-mails, she convinced him that Sharpton was the aggressor and that she would rebuff him. In fact, the ties between Smikle and her grew as a result of the exchange and they went forward with a May 26 marriage. Simultaneously, on October 3, Sharpton "surprised" Kathy by giving her "the gift she always wanted—a church wedding," he told the press. A Las Vegas justice of peace had performed their November 1980 nuptials. The gala, which would be attended by over a thousand guests and include full bridal gear and a Puck Building reception, was initially scheduled for June 3, a week after Harris's wedding. Sharpton's surprise jailing in the Vieques protests in Puerto Rico forced him to postpone it. He was also unexpectedly in jail on Harris's wedding day, though he was not one of the four scheduled presiders and had already decided not to attend, according to another aide. This coincidence, of course, would be followed in 2003 by their simultaneous move-outs.

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