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Standards, Anyone?

Sharpton Extracts a Price For Endorsement of Ferrer

Standards, Anyone?

By George F. Will

August 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Washington Post Company. All Rights Reserved.

NEW YORK -- Queens Boulevard has nine or more lanes, and even though there are little concrete islands where stranded pedestrians, darting in stages from one side of the boulevard to the other, can huddle in midstream of the roaring traffic flood, crossing the boulevard is an adventure for pedestrians who are not Olympic sprinters. Sometimes it is lethal. At various points ominous yellow signs warn: "A pedestrian was killed crossing here." Have a nice day.

At a Jewish senior citizens' center near the boulevard, Herman Badillo, 72, one of the youngest people in the room, is explaining to some voters that if they make him mayor, he will do something for Queens pedestrians. But there probably is not a registered Republican in the room -- there are only 463,040 in the whole city -- so perhaps no one listening to him can vote for him in the Sept. 11 primary.

Badillo has little money but hopes hard-core Republicans will give him the nomination because he is the only Republican running. His opponent, tycoon Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $4 billion), will spend at least $20 million before 100,000 or so Republicans vote -- $200 a voter.

Until last autumn, when Bloomberg changed his registration so he could duck a congested Democratic primary, he was a liberal Democrat. Still is, actually. He also is God's gift to political consultants, of whom he has hired a slew. They have not figured out how to present a billionaire's whim as God's gift to the city.

They probably do not need to. Bloomberg almost certainly will smother Badillo with television advertising. Bloomberg also has purchased the affection of many state Republicans whose actual market price may be considerably less than what he is willing to bid. Come November, whichever of the four familiar faces (never mind who they are; they are fungible liberals) wins the Democratic nomination should be able to use the 5 to 1 Democratic registration advantage to force Bloomberg to seek a hobby other than politics. But let the record show that Badillo deserves better.

Born in Puerto Rico, by age 5 he was an orphan, tuberculosis having taken both parents. By age 11 he was living in East Harlem with relatives. He was equipped for upward mobility by the city's public schools, which then educated, and especially by City College, which then merited the accolade "the Harvard of the poor." He graduated magna cum laude from City College and was valedictorian of his Brooklyn Law School class.

Upward he went as a Democrat on the political ladder. He has been on it a long time. In 1965 he became the first Hispanic president of a borough, the Bronx. In 1970 he became the first native Puerto Rican elected to Congress. In 1978 he became deputy mayor under Edward Koch. But his finest years, which made him a Republican, were those as vice chairman and then, as he was until June, chairman of the board of trustees of City University (CUNY).

In 1969 Mayor John Lindsay's amazingly comprehensive program for ruining everything in the city reached CUNY with the policy of open admissions. Badillo had made it to college only after escaping from his high school's vocational education track (repairing aircraft engines), a track he was shunted into simply because he was Puerto Rican. In 1969 he opposed open admissions. The policy destroyed CUNY for a generation.

His lonely opposition caused criticism from Democrats. Badillo says he responded, "If having standards is a Republican idea, I'm joining the Republican Party." Which he did in 1998.

Today, although he pulls out the usual stops on the political organ (opposing crime, praising housing for the elderly, etc.) his most heartfelt mantra is, "We've lost standards." This loss results from a "philosophy of pandering." No one else running talks like this.

Only Badillo has a sense of urgency, of ground lost and potential wasted because of bad ideas. But he is pushing against the heavy fudge of complacency that is the result of the remarkable improvement of conditions during Mayor Rudy Giuliani's eight years.

Successful leaders often succeed in making the political landscape safe for their adversaries. Margaret Thatcher energized Britain's economy by cutting taxes and regulations and tamed the trade unions, thereby leaving her Conservative Party without its energizing complaints, and making the Labor Party seem less menacing. Ronald Reagan presided over the deflation of government's domestic ambitions and the dissolution of the Cold War, thereby making Democrats more plausible as presidents.

Giuliani's successes in taming crime and shrinking the welfare caseload have made the city appear safe for liberalism. Appearances can be deceiving.

Sharpton Extracts a Price For Endorsement of Ferrer

by Sheryl McCarthy

August 30, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Newsday. All Rights Reserved.

THE photograph, on the front of a New York newspaper, says it all.

A beaming Al Sharpton stands dead center, reaching for the extended hand of a black potential voter in Harlem. Behind him stands mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer, who's reaching around Sharpton to shake the person's hand, but only after Sharpton goes first.

Ferrer, who's trailing Mark Green in the polls, is treating Sharpton's endorsement like a major prize. But, as the two take their show on the road around New York City, the question is whether Sharpton's endorsement is worth the price Ferrer paid for it.

For months, Ferrer seemed to be toadying for Sharpton's support while Sharpton, who just spent three months in jail for his part in a protest against U.S. bombing in Vieques , Puerto Rico (an issue near and dear to Ferrer), toyed with the Bronx Borough president like a fickle lover.

In May, after telling a newspaper columnist that he planned to back Ferrer for mayor, Sharpton denied the published story, claiming it was leaked by Ferrer's campaign. It was a lie that painted Ferrer's campaign as overly eager for Sharpton's suppport.

Later, Sharpton told another reporter that he had conditioned his support on whether Ferrer agreed to back certain black and Jewish candidates for city offices. When Ferrer balked at these conditions, Sharpton claimed Ferrer's people were trying to railroad him into an endorsement by threatening to blame him for the collapse of an alleged black and Latino political coalition.

To his credit, Ferrer refused to accept Sharpton's ultimatum, and in mid-May they agreed that Sharpton would be satisfied if Ferrer agreed not to exclude candidates solely because they were black and if the two could agree to support certain policies.

In mid-August, Ferrer visited Sharpton in jail, the only mayoral candidate to do so. But, days later Sharpton was telling the newspapers that he still hadn't decided whether to endorse Ferrer or Green, the city's public advocate.

When Sharpton got out of jail on Aug. 17, Ferrer was there as Sharpton staged a rally at the headquarters of his National Action Network. But Sharpton didn't endorse Ferrer then, either. He also declined to join a group of Harlem politicians in endorsing Ferrer, saying he didn't want to dilute the impact of his own endorsement. But, the day before the politicians' event, Sharpton had told a Village Voice reporter that he would back Ferrer.

The effect of this this cat-and-mouse game was to make Ferrer look as if he was being jerked around, that he was groveling for Sharpton's nod. Which is a chance you take when you court Al Sharpton. By now the ego is so large that this isn't really about the mayoral race and who will be best for the people of New York City. It's about stringing out his decision for as long as possible, to keep the spotlight on himself. This isn't just about Sharpton's quest to be a power broker in New York. It's about his quest to be the president of black America.

Ferrer's a decent man, and has been an exceptional leader in the Bronx. He's been unfairly painted as being obsessed with creating a black and Latino coalition as his only hope for winning the primary and getting a shot at the general election. In fact, while he speaks of being a mayor for the have-nots as well as the haves, he has never spoken publicly about a coalition of any ethnic groups.

But he needs all the votes he can get, and he hasn't been doing well with potential black voters. A Quinnipiac University poll done a few weeks ago estimated Green would win 40 percent of likely Democratic black voters, with Ferrer only in the high teens.

"It's the direction Ferrer needs to go in," Marist Institute for Public Opinion director Lee Miringhoff said of Ferrer's pursuit of Sharpton's support.

Sharpton's endorsement probably will bring Ferrer votes he wouldn't have gotten otherwise. A source who was with the two men as they strolled along Fulton Street in Brooklyn this week, amid an excited crowd of onlookers, said being with Sharpton was "like being with a rock star."

But rock stars are notoriously callous and fickle toward their followers. The same is true of Sharpton. If he believes Ferrer is the best mayoral candidate, and if, as it appears, he knew all along that he would back him, then this was a lousy way to treat one's chosen candidate.

But that's Al. It's about his own glory. And his kisses don't come cheap.

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