Al Sharpton’s rush to issue a statement this week denouncing Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney’s use of the n-word in a magazine interview has once again made him a potential kingmaker. Thanks to Sharpton, Maloney may not stay in the 2010 senate race, making things easier for incumbent Kirsten Gillibrand.
Interestingly enough, there happens to be a connection between Sharpton and Gillibrand — newly minted political consultant Charlie King.
An unsuccessful 2002 candidate for Lieutenant Governor and 2006 candidate for Attorney General, King was the national director of Sharpton’s National Action Network until this spring, when he stepped down and announced he was forming a new consulting business, The War Room. His first client was Gillibrand, at $5,000 a month.
While it was never reported during the two years that King was NAN director (Sharpton is president), King says now that he was never on staff, but was paid under the name of another consulting firm he incorporated in March 2007, The Movement Group. King is still a consultant to NAN, just no longer its national director.
So when the Rev climbed atop the front page of the Daily News to say he found the Maloney comment “alarming” and “disturbing,” he was doing his buddy Charlie a big favor.
Maloney was quoting a Puerto Rican friend who had told her that Gillibrand’s support for English-only education was to Latinos the equivalent of “saying the n-word” to blacks. She is now said to be re-considering her decision to challenge Gillibrand. The national media hubbub that followed the News headline has reportedly delayed, if not derailed, her planned announcement. Putting the n-word comment behind her might get Maloney back into the race, and Rachel Noerdlinger, the spokeswoman for NAN, told the Voice that Sharpton and Maloney have recently “exchanged calls and have agreed through Congressman Jose Serrano to meet very soon.”
King says he was vacationing in Spain when the Maloney story broke and that Sharpton “called me after he did it and told me to look at the Daily News.” Insisting that he “didn’t talk to Reverend Sharpton before he did it,” King said he was “off by half a day.” Asked what he does for Gillibrand, King called it “general consulting.” Asked if he talked to or saw her often, King replied: “not that often.” King says he’s known Gillibrand for 13 years or more, having met her first in the Clinton 1996 campaign. He also later worked with her under Andrew Cuomo at HUD.
When the Voice called the Gillibrand campaign, staffers didn’t seem to have any idea who King was. Though Gillibrand paid King’s War Room, the company was not incorporated or licensed to do business in New York until late June. The campaign’s filings reported the company’s address as 110 Williams Street, but the Voice couldn’t find King or any of his several companies — which also include CGK Partners and 1st and Goal Productions — listed there. Asked about it, King said his firm was “moving,” but offered no new location. While running NAN, he did operate for some time out of the 45th Street offices of Storch, Amini and Mueves, the law firm that incorporated The Movement Group and includes King’s longtime friend Bijan Amini (the firm’s top two partners were on the opposite side of the tobacco litigation Gillibrand once worked on). In addition to political consulting, King says he is acting as a lobbyist, with clients like North Carolina-based SAS Corporation, and making a movie about education.
King was working for Sharpton at NAN when Gillibrand was selected in December by Governor Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton in the senate. He immediately contacted Gillibrand aides and set up the new senator’s rushed visit to NAN’s Harlem headquarters the day after her selection. He was there with Sharpton to greet her. Barely two months later, King’s company was retained by Gillibrand’s campaign. Her campaign filings indicate that the company was paid $5,000 on April 1 and another $5,000 on April 7, and King indicated that the first payment was for March. That means that King was on retainer with Gillibrand for almost two months before Liz Benjamin reported in her Daily News blog that he was leaving NAN and forming the company on April 22.
Legal questions affecting NAN’s IRS status might well be raised if its national director was a paid political consultant at the same time that he was president of a non profit. Not only was King doing that for Gillibrand, his Movement Group has been acting as a consultant for a variety of political campaigns all the time he was running NAN and being paid by NAN in the same corporate name. His clients have included three black assemblymembers, Keith Wright, Crystal Peoples and Kamir Camara. While NAN is registered with the IRS as a 501-c-4, a section of the tax code that allows it to be more engaged in politics than most nonprofits, King’s multiple hats adds to all the legal issues that have long engulfed NAN, culminating in tax liens and findings against it by the Federal Election Commission. King assured the Voice that his “work for NAN always has allowed” him to do outside work, “whether it be for political candidates or otherwise.”
Sharpton lept to endorse Gillibrand in early June, earlier than he’s ever endorsed a candidate in a statewide or citywide race (he never endorsed Barack Obama for president and he endorsed Gillibrand for 2010 before he endorsed Bill Thompson for mayor in 2009). The longstanding and close King ties to Gillibrand, the day-after-selection Harlem embrace by Sharpton, the premature Sharpton endorsement before anyone has any idea who Gillibrand’s opponent might be, and the attempt at outrage over the Maloney quote suggest a particular bond between the Rev and Gillibrand.
Since Sharpton and Paterson have had a special friendship for decades, it is even possible that Sharpton had something to do with Gillibrand’s selection. Within hours of Paterson’s announcement and even before the pilgrimage a day later to Sharpton’s headquarters, he was telling Fox that her selection was a “good move,” noting uncharacteristically that “Conservative Democrats are winning, so politically it might be a plus” (Sharpton did not return Voice calls about this, but his involvement in the senate sweepstakes last year was widely reported). The Rev’s embrace of Gillibrand is particularly curious since she represented a virtually all-white district and has no history of identification with, or even support, of major African American concerns.
The other oddity is that Sharpton, who has always enjoyed strong ties to Latino leaders, attacked Maloney for her comment but said nothing about Gillibrand’s support for English-only legislation, which was, after all, what provoked the comparison Maloney made. In July 2007, Gillibrand was one of only 22 Democrats to vote with 180 Republicans to bar the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from suing workplaces that require employees to speak English only. The bill, which was defeated by only 10 votes, was sponsored by Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, a co-sponsor of some of the most anti-immigrant legislation in congress.
The Daily News‘ Liz Benjamin blogged the day after the paper’s cover story about Maloney that Gillibrand’s press office gave the paper two different answers on the same day about what her current position is about English only legislation. Benjamin reported that Gillibrand “once touted” her English only position on her website and got an A rating from supporters of English mandatory laws. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has led the fight against these laws, says they “discriminate against and punish those who have not learned English” and are “inconsistent with the first amendment right to communicate with or petition the government and the right to equality.”
In addition to King’s Gillibrand work, his other major political effort is an attempt to install Keith Wright as the head of the Manhattan Democratic Party in September, when the nearly three decades of rule under longtime boss Denny Farrell is supposed to come to an end.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 27, 2009