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14th April

First Published in The New York Sun, April 14, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

The Reverend Alford Sharpton is in a bit of trouble again, a condition not new to him. The question is if and how his latest alleged mischief — relating to the finances of his 2004 presidential campaign— will have an impact on the mayoral campaign.

The simple answer is: not at all. But this may not be as simple as some of his previous problems. This is a federal probe.
Obviously, Rev. Sharpton has retained support and influence from a solid cadre of New Yorkers, despite all of the trials and tribulations of the Brawley case, the revelations that he was an FBI informant, the 1990 state fraud and tax evasion indictments, his role as provocateur of the fatal Freddy’s fire in Harlem, the trail of unpaid bills, bizarre finances, recent allegations of marital infidelity, and the list goes on.

Politically, Democrats have seemingly accepted him as a key player despite his previous endorsements of prominent Republicans such as former Senator D’Amato, Governor Pataki, and even Guy Velella in a pivotal Bronx state senate race in 2000. All of the Democratic hopefuls, as well as Mayor Bloomberg, have made the pilgrimage to Rev. Sharpton’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday event.

Little noticed in the never-ending press coverage, says campaign consultant Jerry Skurnik of Prime New York, is Rev. Sharpton’s uncharacteristically weak showing in the New York presidential primary last year. In a field of Democrats, none of which could be called a clear favorite of black voters, Rev. Sharpton polled just 42,000 votes.

If he is indeed indicted in the probe of his campaign finances, it would just be the cap on what insiders call the biggest disaster of his political career. Once Rev. Sharpton seemed to consistently command an estimated 125,000 to 135,000 votes in citywide primary elections, as evidenced by his campaigns for United States Senate in 1994 and for mayor in 1997.

But the plot thickens. The one wild card is the role played by Rev. Sharpton’s erstwhile campaign chair, Roberto Ramirez. The same Mr. Ramirez is now running Fernando Ferrer’s campaign. It is well known that Rev. Sharpton and Mr. Ramirez no longer see eye-to-eye. But as a key operative in the Sharpton for President campaign, is Mr. Ramirez or others on his staff or the staffs of his associated companies being interviewed by the FBI? Does he know of anything that may incriminate Rev. Sharpton? Does Rev. Sharpton know anything about Mr. Ramirez? There are rumors that a number of Bronx politicos are the subjects of another, unrelated federal probe.Will such testimony in either case find its way into the public domain? In what subtle ways could the investigations and interrogations have an impact on the relationship between Mr. Ferrer and Rev. Sharpton?

One thing seems certain. When the dust clears, Rev. Sharpton will brush himself off and move on to the next crisis. But serious candidates for mayor, such as Mr. Ferrer and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, don’t have the luxury of repeatedly surviving near-death experiences in the political realm.

Republican mayoral hopeful Steven Shaw appears so young that he makes Gifford Miller look like an elder statesman. But the 30-year-old investment banker could make things uncomfortable for Mayor Bloomberg, if the mayor is forced into a debate.

Mr.Shaw is emerging as something of a policy wonk,poring over reams of data from New York and other cities, establishing a command of the numbers and the issues. A debate between Mr. Shaw, the mayor, and the third Republican in the race, Thomas Ognibene — the former minority leader of the City Council — would be great entertainment.

But the serious question remains as to whether Mr. Shaw can garner 7,500 valid signatures on Republican nominating petitions. This is harder than it sounds. In 2000, supporters of Senator McCain were able to disqualify delegates pledged to then-Governor Bush from the ballot — challenged because many of the signatures gathered were found to be forgeries, despite the fact that the Bronx Republican machine gathered them.

Mayor Bloomberg’s secret weapon in the Latino community is Grammy-winning musician Willie Colon. The Bronx native is wildly popular,and his renown stretches beyond the New York salsa music scene. Mr. Colon has been featured as an actor on Mexican television shows that have been broadcast all over Central and South America.

Mr. Colon walking the streets with Mr. Bloomberg could help blunt the advantage enjoyed by Mr. Ferrer among Latinos, should the former Bronx president emerge as the Democratic candidate. Even a small Latino voter movement toward Mr. Bloomberg could help provide the margin of victory in a close election.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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