The ghost of Mark Green haunted the Democratic primary for governor this year, ultimately forcing Andrew Cuomo’s stunning retreat.
While news columns are filled now with 9-11 memories of a unified city, it is worth remembering that only one month after the attack, Green’s victory over Fernando Ferrer in the October 11 mayoral runoff was turned into a racial cataclysm.
This lifelong liberal became the object lesson of what happens to a white man who gets in the way of ego-driven empowerment.
Green was hardly faultless, but it is astonishing to remember that the loudest charge against him was that his supporters may have reproduced a distasteful New York Post cartoon and distributed it in white Brooklyn communities as campaign literature. The allegedly Green-abetted circulation of the cartoon—which depicted Ferrer kissing Reverend Al Sharpton’s bountiful butt—supposedly inflamed Sharpton and top Ferrer backer Roberto Ramirez, the then chair of the Bronx Democratic party.
Ramirez, Sharpton, Congressman Charlie Rangel, union leader Dennis Rivera, and other Ferrer backers “sabotaged” Green in November, as the Democratic nominee’s campaign manager Rich Schrader put it in postmortem interviews. With Rivera already in the Pataki camp this year and Rangel publicly stating his intention to join him if Cuomo had defeated Carl McCall, a possible replay of the bare-bones tactics that helped make Mike Bloomberg mayor hung in the air all year.
No one noticed just a few months after the hoopla about the cartoon when a smiling Sharpton appeared in a Post promotional campaign called “My Post, My Paper,” telling readers how much he liked the paper’s sports section. “That’s what keeps the audience,” beamed Sharpton in an April 17 ad that ran on the sports pages.
No one noticed either when Sharpton launched a protest campaign in January against EchoStar Communications, a prime target of Post owner Rupert Murdoch. After orchestrating a demonstration at EchoStar’s Washington, D.C., headquarters over its exclusion of black gospel programming, Sharpton traveled to the Colorado home of its CEO to oppose the company’s proposed takeover of DirecTV, a combination of the U.S.’s two biggest satellite providers bitterly fought by Murdoch.
And no one’s noticed this year that the co-chair of Democrats for Pataki is none other than the co-chair of Sharpton’s National Action Network, Reverend Franklyn Richardson II, pastor of the 4000-member Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon. Richardson, who chairs the Pataki group with Ed Koch, is so close to Sharpton he led a prayer at the ballyhooed renewal last year of Sharpton’s wedding vows, a successful attempt to contrast him with the maritally impaired Jesse Jackson. The son of another Sharpton insider, Harold Doley, was on both the Bloomberg and Pataki campaign payrolls, drawing down $9500 a month in Pataki payments.
Sharpton and sidekick Ramirez have also formally joined forces for the upcoming presidential race, with Ramirez signing on recently to become a top consultant for the minister’s 2004 run. Ramirez resigned as Bronx party boss after he and much of the party sat out the 2001 general election in a well-publicized fit, pushing embittered Latino and black voters into Bloomberg’s GOP column. The 51-year-old former assemblyman immediately formed a political consulting company with another Ferrer operative, Luis Miranda, called Mirram Associates. Mirram shares both an office and a business relationship with Global Strategy, an established polling and media firm that will also be involved in the Sharpton race.
According to campaign filings up to late August, Mirram, Ramirez individually, and another related entity, Miranda Y Mas, have been paid $166,755 by McCall, his running mate Dennis Mehiel, and Bill Mulrow, a candidate for state comptroller. Sharpton endorsed Mulrow and McCall and remained neutral in the Mehiel race, even after announcing at one point that he was supporting Cuomo’s black running mate, Charlie King. Ramirez and Miranda are also on a $10,000 a month retainer with Eliot Spitzer’s campaign, though no payments have appeared in filings yet because the attorney general has no primary opponent.
Had Cuomo defeated McCall, as the polls indicated he would for most of the campaign, Ramirez and Sharpton were positioned to either repeat the Green assault, or do a subtler version of it. Rangel, who was miraculously portrayed as a peacemaker and a “party leader” in a Times tribute on Monday, actually was the one who repeatedly invoked memories of the scorched-earth tactics of 2001, both threatening and cajoling Cuomo. It is no secret that Rangel’s top pot of booty these days is the Harlem Empowerment Zone, and every decision his allies make about spending those hundreds of millions of dollars has to be ratified by Pataki’s office.
Sharpton contends that he would not have been party to any such strategy, pointing out that he “talked often and bluntly with Andrew Cuomo and told him that if he won, I would support him.” But Sharpton does concede that a Green repeat “could have happened,” acknowledging that “Charlie and others made public statements suggesting it,” but adding, “I don’t know how effective it would have been without me.” Not even Sharpton would dismiss the notion that Ramirez might have become part of it.
Ramirez certainly has his own ties to the Pataki camp. Jose Ithier, who was Ferrer’s longstanding chief of staff in the borough president’s office, was put on the payroll of the Empire State Development Corporation early this year, working for the governor’s top fundraiser, Charles Gargano. Ithier was part of a rainbow coalition of top Democrats hired by the governor, also including former black councilwoman Una Clarke and Herb Berman, a Brooklyn councilman who ironically attended the nefarious meeting where the cartoon literature was supposedly concocted.
The Miranda/Ramirez entities are also consultants to the Yankees, hired to help pave the way for Bronx support for whatever new stadium concept emerges. Ironically, Miranda confirmed that they are subcontractors to Powers Crane Consulting, a powerhouse Albany lobbying firm headed by former GOP state chair Bill Powers and a relative of Michael Finnegan, Pataki’s former counsel and longtime best friend. Powers Crane registered as a Yankee lobbyist early this year, and was paid $50,000 in the first quarter. Ramirez would not say how much his firm gets under this subcontract.
In addition, Mirram was also retained as a consultant to the YES Network, the Yankees’ new cable franchise. Mirram filed a disclosure statement with the city clerk’s office simply listing Mirram as a lobbyist for Global without mentioning the Yankees or YES. But Miranda confirmed that the network retained them and that they are being paid through Global. The contract paid Mirram $50,000 between June 15 and August 1 to lobby the council, borough presidents, and other city officials. Brad Race, who just stepped down as secretary to the governor, is also on YES retainer, as is Powers Crane. Ramirez says he has “no idea why the Yankee retainer was done through Powers” and insists he “does not have much interaction with Powers or Race.”
These foot-in-every-camp intertwines are nothing new to Ramirez or Sharpton. Ramirez was so in bed with his Republican counterpart in the Bronx, GOP leader and State Senator Guy Velella, that he gave Velella the Democratic line in 1996 and undercut a serious Democratic challenger to him in 2000. Sharpton appeared with Pataki at a Harlem church on the eve of the election in 1994, endorsed Al D’Amato in 1986, and befriended Powers when he ran the state GOP. Two of the most fiery and articulate spokesmen for their communities, they are also consummate dealmakers and political entrepreneurs.
The bombast of 2001 so alarmed Cuomo he was caught calling it “a racial contract” in a taped conversation last year, warning that it could not be allowed to happen again. Sharpton thinks Cuomo quit because he was losing anyway and “wanted to come off as a healer.” But that may just be another way of saying that the 44-year-old with 2006 ambitions did not want to wind up a second Green, racialized and ridiculed.
Research assistance: Nate Schweber, Sandy Amos