Saturday, August 20, 2011

From the Village Voice's Siegel: Sharpton as mayoral king killer (and, I'd add, the knife in Ferrer's back over AY)

Columnist Harry Siegel, in the 8/17/11 Village Voice, offers Sharpton's Racket: The man who will never be mayor could decide who the next one will be:
As much because of as in spite of his sins, [the Rev. Al Sharpton]’s emerged as a national figure and a dominant player in New York City Democratic politics – where he’s kneecapped the party’s last four mayoral nominees.

Think of Sharpton’s approval as one of his protection rackets (many candidates would prefer his silence to his endorsement, given how unpopular he remains with white voters). Most of the candidates who pay tribute to him aren’t nearly as concerned with the support of a man who has never drawn even 150,000 votes in four losing runs for office, as with defending themselves from the negative attention he can summon.

...While he's shown little ability to help friends, his power to punish enemies is unquestioned. In his 2002 book, Al on America, Sharpton titles the chapter on the 2001 mayoral race "Kingmaker?"—but "King Killer" would be more accurate. His decision that year not to back Democrat Mark Green after he beat out Sharpton's then-ally Fernando Ferrer in a runoff for the party's nod was crucial to Michael Bloomberg's surprise win.

...In 1997, Sharpton, without improving his vote total, nearly forced a runoff with eventual nominee Ruth Messinger—and took the primary results to court (his complaint was eventually dismissed), hamstringing her already uninspired bid to unseat Rudolph Giuliani. After damaging Green in 2001, Sharpton effectively split with [Freddy] Ferrer in 2005, giving his former ally a belated and tepid endorsement while making clear he would have no issue with four more years of the mayor who had become his patron... In 2009, Sharpton offered an equally unenthusiastic endorsement of then-comptroller William Thompson, the first African American to have held the office, who ended up falling just 50,000 votes short in his bid to unseat Bloomberg.
The knife in Ferrer's back

Unmentioned is a key episode in the Ferrer campaign, whereupon the candidate belatedly came out against Atlantic Yards, only to have Sharpton--his supporter--immediately issue a statement criticizing him.

Most in the press played Sharpton's knife in the back over Ferrer's policy switch. The New York Times, for example, published a 10/29/05 article headlined Ferrer Is Chided Over Atlantic Yards:
In a statement sent by e-mail to reporters, Mr. Sharpton said that he and Mr. Ferrer "strongly disagree" on the project, which would place a ridge of skyscrapers and a basketball arena at a major Brooklyn intersection and straddle several low-scale neighborhoods where opposition to the project has recently intensified. Mr. Ferrer, he said, "needs to realize that failure to get projects like this done would be a terrible loss for communities of color throughout this city."

"We cannot play politics with something as important as the Atlantic Yards," Mr. Sharpton said.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Sharpton played down the notion of a rift between the two camps, saying that the statement had been issued in response to calls from reporters and was intended "to make it clear that I wasn't playing politics."
That, people, is Orwellian. What was Sharpton doing other than playing politics?

And catch the close to the article:
Bruce Bender, an executive at Forest City Ratner, the development partner in building a new Midtown headquarters for the New York Times Company, accused Mr. Ferrer of misrepresenting the facts.
The trustworthy Bruce ("I don't mind fucking the bridge") Bender accusing someone of misrepresenting the facts?

Ah, the journalism of verification.

I dissected all this in my 11/10/05 /analysis, Freddy’s Fumble: Ferrer mishandled Atlantic Yards, but the press made it worse.

Playing nice with Ratner

And what might have been Sharpton's motivation? As Daily News sports investigatIve reporters T.J. Quinn and Michael O'Keeffe reported 11/6/05:
Not included in Sharpton’s statement or the newspaper articles, however, was one significant fact: Forest City Ratner has contributed thousands of dollars to Sharpton’s National Action Network. Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco acknowledged Ratner’s development company provided financial support last year and this year but declined to say how much money FCR has contributed to the National Action Network’s coffers.

Sharpton, too, would not specify a dollar amount, but he did tell The Score that FCR has been a corporate sponsor of his organization’s annual fund-raising dinner and convention for the past three years.

That money, Sharpton adds, has nothing to do with his support for the $3.5 billion project. He points out that he only jumped aboard in July. “If donations to the Network meant anything,” Sharpton says, “then I would have supported it long before that.”

Shaprton says he lent his support to the Atlantic Yards at the urging of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, the founder of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance and Bertha Lewis*, executive director of ACORN, a housing advocacy group.
Well, the Community Benefits Agreement had been signed only in late June, so it's plausible that only then would signatories like Daughtry and Lewis ask for more backing.

Sharpton kept a low profile during most of the Atlantic Yards debate, only to pop up to denounce anti-AY activist Daniel Goldstein and to twist the truth at the groundbreaking last year.

Playing nice with Bloomberg

Why has Sharpton played so nice with Bloomberg? Siegel suggests it was a trade-off "in exchange for public appearances with the mayor and cash funneled through former schools chancellor Joel Klein."

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