Al Sharpton Refuses to Endorse Andrew Cuomo on NY1: The Juicy Background
Instead, he heaped praise on Councilman Charles Barron, who is running against Cuomo for governor on the Freedom Party ballot line (it's free of white people). But Sharpton's claim that the Barron party is gaining a lot of "traction" got lost in the media hubbub over Paladino's throwdown with the Post's Fred Dicker.
As the Rev makes up his mind, it might be of passing interest to him to discover that The Number One Anti-Sharpton Spearchucker, Stephen Marks, is on Paladino's campaign payroll. The author of "Confessions of a Political Hitman," Marks made his reputation by invidiously linking Sharpton in television commercials to Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
What makes all this even juicier is that Marks' Kingfish Consulting was hired by none other than old Sharpton friend and benefactor, Roger Stone, the heart-of-darkness Republican who played a leading strategic and financial role in Sharpton's 2004 presidential run. Now Paladino's maestro, Stone couldn't have been happier with Sharpton's rambling NY1 suggestions that Cuomo was taking black folks "for granted."
Stone and Marks reportedly got to know each other in 2000, when Stone fluctuated between Donald Trump and Pat Buchanan, both of whom pursued at one time or another the Reform Party line of Ross Perot in third party machinations that impacted the outcome of the Bush v Gore race. Marks used to work for Buchanan. Marks' company is listed only once -- at an Antioch, Tennessee address -- in the Paladino filing for $10,000 in June. But Marks told the New York Times Magazine when his book came out in 2008 that opposition researchers are often paid "by consultants or attorneys or others working in the campaign so we won't come up" on the candidate's public disclosure filings.
Asked who paid him to do the 2000 commercials widely believed to have materially aided Bush's win, Marks said in the Times interview: "Some folks in Tennessee who didn't like Al Gore."
In his memoir, Marks said that his anti-Gore ad "was probably my finest moment," claiming that it was seen in every state, either as a commercial or as a news story about the commercial. "The ad showed footage of Al Gore defending 'Reverend' Sharpton as Gore pandered to an African American audience during the 2000 campaign," wrote Marks, putting Sharpton's ministerial title in quotes. This was followed by "grainy footage (featuring some pretty scary music) showing Sharpton urging college students to kill cops," then shots of him "referring to America's Founding Fathers as the 'Scum of Europe,'" and finally "gruesome photos of killers and rapists Sharpton had defended."
In 2004, Marks did two ads that also aroused major controversy, one a conscious replica of the 1988 Willie Horton ad that used Horton footage and claimed Kerry had helped obtain a prison furlough for someone who subsequently committed a heinous crime, and the other showed Kerry "sucking up to Sharpton," recycling his old footage of the Rev.
Sharpton has denounced Marks' ads. Heck, even Bill O'Reilly did. And Marks claimed in his book, which came out in January 2008, that he'd dropped out of the oppo business.
But by that October, he was airing "The Real Barack Obama" ad produced by his own 527 group called pH for America in two battleground states. The Obama campaign responded to the ad -- which accused him of "arrogantly mocking the Bible" -- by branding Marks a "career smear peddler."
Sharpton's posture in the NY1 appearance was that Cuomo hadn't "addressed in an aggressive way a lot of the issues," and scolded him for assuming that because blacks are "of one party" that "they're going to in any way come out in the numbers that you would need, particularly if you have an aggressive opponent."
"People want alternatives to being taken for granted and I think that is a good thing," Sharpton said, naming the Freedom Party and the Working Families Party (which has, in fact, endorsed Cuomo). Asked if Barron had "a valid point in putting his name out there," Sharpton replied: "Oh, absolutely, it's valid." Pressed about whether Barron "could splinter the vote and Cuomo could lose," Sharpton said: "If Carl Paladino could beat Andrew Cuomo, then Andrew Cuomo shouldn't win." If "there ever was a time to exercise your options," he concluded, "now would appear to be the time."
Sharpton raised the subject of Cuomo's father, pointing out that "in 1994 I never endorsed Mario Cuomo," without adding that he's boasted that his neutrality then might have caused Cuomo's defeat. In his book, Go And Tell Pharaoh, published a year after Cuomo's defeat, Sharpton wrote how Mario Cuomo had enlisted Jesse Jackson to try to convince him to endorse the three-term governor. "Do you want to be responsible for the election of George Pataki?" Jackson asked Sharpton.
"I said do what you want. I'm not going to endorse him unless he calls me and deals with these issues," Sharpton wrote, including as one of his key issues the restoration of law license of Alton Maddox, a Sharpton sidekick in the hoax rape case of Tawana Brawley. "And I didn't. A lot of analysts said that my not supporting Cuomo was a large factor in him not getting the black vote he needed. After he won, Pataki invited me and 12 other ministers to breakfast in the governor's mansion in Albany on Martin Luther King's birthday." Sharpton actually appeared with Pataki in a prominent Harlem church on the eve of the election without formally endorsing him.
Sharpton was just as proud of his role in the defeat of another Democrat, Mark Green, who lost to Mike Bloomberg in 2001. His second memoir, Al on America, recounts in great detail how he derailed Green by refusing to endorse him, describing the personal surge of power he felt in the voting booth when he voted for other Democrats but skipped Green's name. He went to a party of his political allies in the Bronx on election night and when Bloomberg overtook Green in the tally: "You would have thought we won the election. The people in the Bronx were going crazy, jumping up and down."
"To this day, I feel the Democratic Party had to be taught a lesson," Sharpton concluded in this 2002 book. "Don't take us for granted."
Of course, it's impossible to tabulate how many voters a leader convinces to stay home, giving Sharpton the opportunity to invent his own scorecard. But he undermined Ruth Messinger, the Democrat who lost to Rudy Giuliani in 1997, and Bob Abrams, the Democrat who lost to U.S. Senator Al D'Amato in 1992. Indeed, he's credited with helping to defeat more Democrats in New York than electing them.
Yet Obama and the Democratic National Committee are, by several accounts, preparing to dispatch Sharpton across the country as a major surrogate, using him to generate black enthusiasm in swing districts, a strategy that failed for John Kerry in 2004. Sharpton referred to this in his NY1 appearance, saying he's "doing several states this cycle other than New York," where he's apparently prepared to continue his long tradition of covertly aiding Republicans, even ones who track in racist email and hire his top public enemy.
Research assistance: Lily Altavena, Sam Cook, Ryan Gellis, Jared Greenfield, Puneet Parhar, and Brianna Strange.