In the field
of Democratic presidential candidates for 2004, Al Sharpton has
been called the one candidate "who knows how to take charge
of a situation." The remark came from The Washington Post's
David Broder who probably meant it more as a jab at the other
nine candidates after they froze
during a heckler's disruption at a televised debate in Baltimore.
As they faltered, Sharpton took charge and hushed the heckler
with a short spiel on the merits of being polite.
only candidate who knew how to deal with this un-programmed event
-- the only candidate who figured out how to profit from it --
was, believe it or not, Al Sharpton," wrote Broder.
and others like it have defined much of the media's coverage of
the outspoken civil rights activist's career. Arguably the most
controversial of the nine candidates, Sharpton's checkered past
mixed with his tell-it-like-it-is style has, on the one hand,
earned him supporters who call his direct approach refreshing
and, on the other, spurred critics to call him a racist instigator.
strength is, he's very smart," CNN political analyst William
Schneider told the network. "He's rarely foolish. He says
what he thinks and he's very direct, and that surprises a lot
of people because they think of him as some kind of a rabble-rouser,
which he can be. But I think he contributes to the debate, no
question about it."
and head the National Action Network, a civil rights organization,
Sharpton's platform since he entered the political spotlight in
the early 1990s has focused on the rights of African Americans,
women and the poor.
In 1992 and
1994 he made back-to-back bids for the New York state Senate,
gaining 26 percent of the vote in his second run against popular
incumbent Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D). Three years later,
Sharpton ran for the New York City mayor's seat, this time surprising
his rivals and receiving 32 percent of the vote in the Democratic
primary. In all three instances, Sharpton's platform was the same:
civil rights for the disenfranchised.
politics on the national level, the Rev. Al, as his New York supporters
call him, was known mainly as the outspoken New York City activist,
who loudly challenged the policies of the city's political leadership.
In recent years he has made enemies of Republicans like former
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Gov. George Pataki.
critics have accused him of using anti-white, anti-Jewish rhetoric
that has led to people losing their lives -- on two occasions,
protests led by Sharpton have escalated into fatal riots -- and
have incited bad relations between the city's blacks and the police
department. Some department officials have called Sharpton a troublemaker
who politicizes race.
New Yorkers have never been fooled by Mr. Sharpton's political
feints, or by his attempts at respectability," wrote columnist
Heather MacDonald in a 2000 Wall Street Journal article in response
to comments Sharpton made in a dispute with then New York City
Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. "His scramble to discredit
Mr. Kerik shows him, once again, as a brazen racial provocateur."
In 1985, Sharpton
made national headlines during the Bernard Goetz trial after he
led a protest in response to the subway shootings of four black
teenagers by a white subway rider. Sharpton later led similar
protests in Howard Beach and Crown Heights -- two New York City
neighborhoods -- after other racially charged shootings.
most public low point in Sharpton's career came in 1987 when he
aligned himself with Tawana Brawley, a black teenager who accused
six New York City police officers of kidnapping and raping her.
A judge later ruled that Brawley fabricated the story and ordered
Sharpton to pay $65,000 in damages after he accused an assistant
district attorney of having a hand in the abduction. The stigma
of the Brawley case has stuck with Sharpton.
Sharpton Jr. was born in Brooklyn in 1954. Early in his life Sharpton's
mother moved the family into a Brooklyn housing project, following
a split from her husband. According to Sharpton, his new surroundings
inspired the activist in him. By the age of 10 he was an ordained
Baptist preacher and at 14 was the youth director for the Rev.
Jesse Jackson's Operation Breadbasket, a relief organization for
Jackson's organization, Sharpton became the road manager for singer
James Brown. Sharpton toured the country with Brown until the
early 1980s when he married Kathy Lee Jordan, one of Brown's backup
singers. Sharpton and Jordan live with their two daughters in
days of the Tawana Brawley scandal, Sharpton has reshaped his
political image and says he is running for president to unseat
President Bush and to highlight issues that affect African Americans
and other minority groups. An avowed liberal, he has accused the
Democratic Party of moving too far to the right.
last decade the Democratic Party has been influenced by a group
called the Democratic Leadership Council, and their notion was
that we must move to the right, they say center," Sharpton
said at a speech in Massachusetts over the summer. "But they're
pro-big business, pro-death penalty, pro-deregulation of big business,
pro-NAFTA, pro-GATT. They're elephants in donkey's clothes. They're
tryin' to pretend to be Democrats but they're really Republicans."
to his top ten list of issues, including winning voting rights
for Washington, D.C., residents and fighting for affirmative action,
Sharpton says he hopes his presidential campaign will publicize
three amendments to the Constitution which he has proposed: The
Right to Public Education of Equal High Quality, the Right to
Healthcare of Equal High Quality and the Right to Vote.
campaign will serve as a launching pad and beginning for a new
human rights and constitutional rights movement in this country,"
Sharpton states on his campaign Web site.
fact that most political observers give him little chance of winning
the nomination, Sharpton maintains that he has a strong chance
at the Democratic primary, but has said he will support any of
the other eight Democrats in their bid against George Bush.
-- By Kristina Nwazota, Online NewsHour