It was Wednesday, Sept. 6, around midnight, and we were sitting at a regular table at Elaine’s, last one on the right before the alcove leading to the party room, kitchen and restrooms. My controversial friend, the often-dismissed and (by white people, at least) hugely underrated Reverend Al Sharpton, was sitting alongside me. I’m proud of my association with the fiery civil rights leader and believe that the mainstream will soon get hip to the fact that he’s evolved light years since Tawana Brawley to become one of the nation’s most effective and powerful black leaders.
Big Al hadn’t been in Elaine’s in years, if at all, and despite the presence of celebrities like Danny Aiello, all eyes were on us as we answered questions about the Mayoral race for the three or four reporters gathered around. They had been alerted to the opportunity by Mr. Sharpton’s office; he wanted to make the point that my possible candidacy had more potential than most pundits were suggesting.
After some vigorous give-and-take, including Mr. Sharpton being asked how my stance on the Simpson case would affect the African-American vote (“It wasn’t a civil rights issue,” he replied adroitly), the reporters seemed to be satisfied that a potential candidacy would pass the laugh test. But the real target audience of the evening was the veteran columnist Jack Newfield, who stayed with us for dinner after the other reporters left.
When it comes to New York City politics, Jack Newfield is as good as they come-tough, experienced, savvy. And Rev. Al and I agreed that if Jack liked my chances for City Hall, and was intrigued by the prospects of a Rivera-Sharpton multi-ethnic, third-party “unity” alliance, then others might give the notion a second look. “From Howard Beach to Harlem,” the reverend suggested it be called. I applauded the idea so vigorously I knocked my gin-and-tonic into his lap. I felt like Rick Lazio the day he planted his face on the asphalt. “Hey, I’m the one who does the baptizing around here,” Rev. Sharpton quipped. Everyone laughed and forgot my clumsiness.
Anyway, Jack Newfield hated the idea of my running for Mayor. I was in L.A. when his open letter ran Sept. 13 in the New York Post , urging me to abandon my reckless dream. Reading it on my laptop, I was relieved that the old pro I’ve known for 30 years, since my days in the Young Lords, at least didn’t make fun of me. In a tone that was wise, worldly and only mildly mocking, Jack warned that my candidacy would be savaged by the professional politicians and ridiculed by my colleagues in the media. He suggested that all of my well-known excesses would be rehashed in excruciating detail: Al Capone’s empty vault, my ill-advised autobiography, the skinhead studio rumble and others now only on the fringes of the public consciousness.
Aside from tearing apart my reputation, he went on to suggest that the race would also strip me of my hard-earned treasure, wasting millions on a race I couldn’t possibly win, squandered by professional scammers who would say and do anything to convince me that I stood enough of a chance that I must pursue the office, no matter how expensive or debilitating the effort.
He painted a grim picture, but not so different really from the advice I’ve received over the past few weeks from many friends and family members. Essentially they all say that, for all my good intentions, I am too inexperienced, too naïve, too innocent, too outside, too personally tarnished and emotionally vulnerable, to risk a quest so quixotic.
They may be right.
But let me tell you why I might take the risk anyway, even with C.C. and me in the midst of marital convulsions.
I was born in New York City, of a marriage that was as unique as the town-a Jewish mother and a Puerto Rican father. Throughout childhood, my siblings and I wrestled with the question of identification; to which of these profoundly disparate groups did we belong? It wasn’t until years later that I finally figured out that we are 100 percent of both. That was when I started dreaming of running for Mayor, a dream I first wrote about in 1973, in a children’s book titled Miguel Robles, So Far , a thinly veiled (G-rated) autobiography.
Watching the devastating impact Rudy Giuliani’s policies have had on relations between the city’s racial and ethnic groups, my old dream was revived. Under his administration, we have seen New York become an emotionally segregated city, one in which minority mothers are more fearful of the cops than the crooks. Stop-and-frisk racial-profiling policing has left us a city divided. Mr. Giuliani is probably a well-meaning person, and I wish him good fortune, but his reaction to any controversy involving law enforcement made him seem an insensitive, inflexible bully. There are better, more honest, constitutionally permissible approaches to police work that do not require the Thin Blue Line to mimic its counterpart in pre-Mandela Johannesburg.
My Mayoral dream really went into overdrive on another Wednesday, an afternoon in August. I was meeting my sons Gabriel, 21, and Cruz, 12, at Sardi’s before heading off to see the Jesus Christ Superstar matinee. Walking from the parking garage on 42nd and 10th, over to Broadway, up to 44th Street, I felt like I was attending a high school reunion. Every one of the people in the wildly diverse crowd that I encountered gave me a warm and friendly greeting.
I started getting excited again about this childhood dream. In it, I reach a hand from, yes, Howard Beach to Harlem, from Staten Island to the South Bronx, and say to all New Yorkers, “Hey, we’ve been divided long enough; we’re all in this together.”
And while that bridge-building would be the central theme of any Geraldo candidacy, it is only one plank in a platform that would call for a gigantic effort to register all eligible voters. It would be part of a campaign promoting self-respect: Be part of the process-vote.
The platform would urge a vast overhaul of the city’s port, an environmental, commercial and recreational disaster that squanders and insults the precious waterways with which we’ve been blessed. It would have sane regulations for the workday flow of road traffic, especially delivery trucks. It would be pro-enterprise, encouraging everyone to become a capitalist. It would welcome all world leaders, regardless of their politics or local popularity. It would applaud gay marriage and refrain from judging what art was appropriate for public institutions. Most importantly, it would closely scrutinize the public school system with an eye to using whatever means necessary to ensure that its students get an education on a par with that received by more advantaged youngsters.
And it would attempt all these things with a warm heart, an open mind, a hard, helping hand and a smile from a City Hall run by a team of competent citizens who don’t need the job, and who are unhindered by the promises, patronage, cronyism and corruption of party politics.
The experts might be right; I may very well self-destruct if I pursue this probably unattainable dream. In the end, I might heed their advice and stay out of it.
But if I did try it-even if the process damaged or destroyed me-I can think of worse ways to go.