Friday, February 28, 2003

Why did Andrew Sullivan send this article on Al Sharpton to London's Sunday Times? Was it because he knew no responsible U.S. periodical would publish it intact?

SullyWatch correctly points out that Sharpton was not found criminally guilty of defaming Steven Pagones (he was found liable in a civil suit); SullyWatch also chides Sullivan for misstating Sharpton's role in the outcome of the last New York mayoral race. There's more to say on this subject, however: Mark Green probably lost the race not because of what Sharpton did but because of what Green did vis-à-vis Sharpton. Jesse Jackson and the black conservative pundit Armstrong Williams agree on this, and they don't agree on much. Jackson:

[Green's] campaign took off the gloves, releasing negative ads against Ferrer. And white voters reported getting election eve calls urging them to vote for Green because Al Sharpton, the African American leader, "cannot be given the keys to City Hall." Flyers were distributed painting Ferrer as a pawn of Sharpton. Dennis Rivera, president of the health and hospital workers' union and a nationally respected political leader, accused Green of "using code words" to divide the city. The runoff vote split on racial lines: Green got 84% of the white vote; Ferrer 84% of the Latino vote and 71% of the black vote.


On the other side was Mark Green, who attacked Ferrer for his association with Reverend Al Sharpton. In what seems a shameless attempt to court the white vote, some upper-class neighborhoods received cartoons depicting Ferrer smooching Sharpton's bloated rear end. The day of the runoff, Green henchmen cruised through predominantly white neighborhoods shouting through their Radio Shack megaphones, "Do you want Sharpton running City Hall?"

Mike Bloomberg also, of course, benefited from a bit of unpleasantness in New York on September 11, 2001; Rudolph Giuliani, a 9/11 hero even to many who'd loathed him, endorsed Bloomberg, while Green made the ill-advised declaration that anyone could have handled the situation as well as Giuliani.

Sullivan also blames Sharpton for the fact that there has been "a decade of Republican mayors and governors in one of the most liberal states in the country." Sharpton does have influence on mayor's races in New York City, but no observer of the New York political scene credits or blames Sharpton in any way for the three elections of George Pataki as governor of New York.

Sullivan says that Sharpton's "gutter style of racial politics has won him a devoted following and considerable clout in New York City Democratic politics." Does Sullivan consider the peaceful, effective protests that arose in the wake of the torture of Abner Louima and the shootings of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond -- protests in which Sharpton was joined by, among others, Ed Koch, his longtime antagonist -- to be "gutter politics"? How about Sharpton's efforts to find justice in the Howard Beach murder of Michael Griffith in 1986?

The maddening thing about Al Sharpton is that he deserves just about as much criticism as he gets -- and an awful lot of praise as well. He's done terrible things and noble things. He's a mountebank and a very good leader. I don't blame anyone who rejects him for the Tawana Brawley incident or the Freddy's incident or any number of other terrible judgments. But it's ignorant -- or dishonest -- to say that his appeal stems exclusively, or primarily, from his worst acts.

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