A year after he became a key factor in the race for mayor, the Rev. Al Sharpton is looming as a wild card as the race for governor heats up.
Sharpton is supporting the Democrat H. Carl McCall, but has taken a low profile in the campaign, as no one has made an issue of that support. That could change closer to Election Day.
"Jews are the only white community in play in this race," said one McCall insider. "If the election gets tight, this card is going to get played."
Sharpton’s support of Fernando Ferrer last year became an issue when supporters of frontrunner Mark Green targeted heavily white and Jewish neighborhoods with posters and phone calls reminding voters of Sharpton’s history of controversy.
Green denied any role in that tactic, but although he won the Democratic primary and runoff, the lingering divisiveness contributed to his defeat in the general election.
Republicans have seized on Sharpton’s poor image among Jews before, in the 2000 presidential race. The Republican National Committee, with the help of the Republican Jewish Coalition, made an issue of Sharpton’s meetings with Democratic nominee Al Gore. The RNC labeled Sharpton "a racist anti-Semite with blood on his hands."
Sharpton sued the RNC chairman at the time, Jim Nicholson, for implying that Sharpton had a role in the 1991 Crown Heights murder of Yankel Rosenbaum. Nicholson later retracted the charge.
While Gov. George Pataki himself is unlikely to engage in such rhetoric, McCall campaign manager Allen Cappelli, noting that the race is tightening, said "it would not surprise me to see the Republicans do most anything."
A spokesman for state GOP chairman Alexander Treadwell had no comment on the subject Tuesday.
Calling Sharpton a "polarizing figure," Matthew Brooks, director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he had "no doubt that people are going to make this an issue. New York politics thrives on that kind of controversy." But Brooks said his group had no plan to launch a campaign invoking Sharpton.
It is unclear what role Sharpton, who is busy planning a presidential bid, will play in McCall’s campaign. For Ferrer, Sharpton was a linchpin of the black-Latino coalition the Bronx borough president was depending on to win minority votes. But McCall, as the state’s potential first African-American governor, needs no boost among black voters.
Cappelli said Sharpton was "one of 700 public officials" who have endorsed McCall. "Each of them have unique characteristics and are utilized accordingly."
Democratic consultant Lincoln Mitchell said the McCall campaign was a far cry from Ferrer’s failed bid.
"One thing that makes [McCall] stand out from Freddy in 2001 is that he is strong and well liked by white voters, particularly Jews," said Mitchell. "He’ll keep an appropriate distance from Sharpton." But if Sharpton emerged as an issue, "McCall would have a cadre of Jewish supporters out there right away to express their support."
The McCall insider predicted that Sharpton opponents would embrace McCall. "Nothing more effectively diminishes Al Sharpton’s role than having Carl McCall in office," said the insider. "He was in the United Nations when Al Sharpton was in eighth grade."
Sharpton was on an exploratory tour of Southern states Tuesday and could not be reached. But he said in a recent interview on New York 1 that he has been appearing and continues to appear with McCall, although the media had not portrayed the appearances the same way they did last year.
Although many Jewish leaders still refuse to talk to him, Sharpton has softened his image by calling for a more open dialogue with the community, denouncing Palestinian terror and visiting Israel ó although he angered some by meeting with Yasir Arafat.
In an interview early in his campaign, McCall said Sharpton "has to be sensitive to how some people think of him … But I think he’s addressing these issues, although maybe not as quickly as some people would wish. The dialogue should continue and we’ll see how he responds."
As for Sharpton’s role in the campaign, McCall said: "I think everybody agrees Al Sharpton has a constituency." But he described the activist as "one of many people who are supporting me."
It was an eerie sight Thursday as men clad in the fluorescent green vests so closely associated with suicide blasts in Israel entered the City Council chamber.
Fortunately, the volunteers from Zaka, the Jerusalem-based rescue and recovery unit, were at City Hall on a positive note: to receive a proclamation from Council Speaker Gifford Miller.
During their brief Israel foray last month, a delegation led by Miller met with representatives of Zaka, who perform the grim task of gathering up body parts after a bombing for religious burial. Miller invited the group, whose name is a Hebrew acronym for Identification of Victims of Disaster, to return the visit in New York.
The proclamation honored the volunteers for providing "comfort and closure for hundreds of families, [earning] the respect of thousands, both here and in Eretz Yisroel."
(New York must surely be the only city in America where an official proclamation can contain the latter two words.)
The Zaka volunteers, in turn, gave the speaker a glass-encased shofar expressing their gratitude.
In another only-in-New York moment, Councilman Simcha Felder of Borough Park, in the last Council meeting before Yom Kippur, asked his colleagues for mechila, or forgiveness, for any indiscretions during the past year, drawing gentle applause for his grace.
There is no prohibition against observant Jews driving on Purim, as there is on Passover, Shavuot and other holidays. But the City Council voted unanimously Thursday to add the festival, which falls this year on March 18, to the long list of festivals on which alternate-side street cleaning rules are suspended.
"This is a holiday that for people who are devout mandates travel throughout their city to see loved ones and give gifts," said Councilman Bill de Blasio, a sponsor of the measure, whose Brooklyn district includes parts of Borough Park. "We should be helping people celebrate the richness of their culture.
" Parking rules are now suspended for every major religious observance (and a few minor ones) sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Those suspensions recognize the city’s diversity, but also deprive the public till of much-needed income from fines. That could be why patience in the Council is wearing thin.
"I hope with this we have exhausted the universe of holiday alternate-side suspensions," said Councilman James Oddo of Staten Island, the Republican minority leader. "Every month of the year we have numerous days when we have suspended these rules.
" In other words, keep figuring extra time to find legal parking on Tu b’Shvat.
Sen. Charles Schumer reportedly was stunned during a recent town hall meeting in Buffalo when someone in the audience asked his opinion on whether Jews were behind 9-11.
Buffalo resident Helene Lipman reports that Schumer declared that the question was "anti-Semitic," and noted that he was particularly surprised the question came from an African American, given the history of persecution of both blacks and Jews.
After the meeting, Schumer confronted the questioner directly and said again that the question was inappropriate, said Lipman.
After losing the Democratic nomination for a new state Senate seat in Flatbush, former City Councilman Noach Dear will still appear on November’s ballot: as the Conservative Party candidate. A Republican source says he failed to win enough signatures to capture the GOP nod, which went to Herman Hall, editor of a Caribbean-American newspaper. Dear did not return calls for comment about whether he would continue campaigning for the seat.
Rep. Steve Israel of Huntington, L.I., was among members of Congress who recently helped arrange for Cuban Jews to attend High Holy Days services at the U.S. naval base on Guantanamo Bay. Israel’s chief of staff, David Siegel, reportedly spent hours on the phone here making arrangements with overseas chaplains.