‘We All Cool Up Here': Al Sharpton Explains His Neutrality in Mayor’s Race

Bill Thompson at the National Action Network this morning.

Bill Thompson at the National Action Network this morning.

The mayoral candidates made their final pilgrimage to Rev. Al Sharpton’s House of Justice this morning, making their case to Harlem voters as they scramble for support in the campaign’s final stretch.

All of the Gracie Mansion hopefuls have been aggressively courting black support, crisscrossing black neighborhoods and vying for the endorsements of prominent black leaders. But one of the biggest prizes–Mr. Sharpton himself–has chosen to stay mum–a decision that has been seen as a particular blow to Bill Thompson, the only black candidate in the race.

The overtones were impossible to ignore this morning as Mr. Sharpton took pains to stress that he wasn’t playing favorites and tried to convince those in the audience that there was no bad blood between him and the five candidates present: Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, John Liu, Anthony Weiner and Mr. Thompson.

The candidates on stage at the National Action Network.

The candidates on stage at the National Action Network.

Come post-election Wednesday, he said, things would be different. “I promised Bill Thomson he and I would sit down to talk about a lot of stuff. I promised Bill de Blasio I would take his son for a haircut … I promised Anthony Weiner that we would do the outer boroughs together and play basketball. And I promised Chris Quinn we would do what we used to do: lead a demonstration,” he said. “So we all cool up here!”

Mr. Sharpton argued his non-decision was not a snub to any of the Democratic candidates assembled on stage together.

“The movement shapes politics. Politics should not shape the movement … What we are going to endorse is the continued democratization of this country and of this city, which is why you have to vote and vote with a passion this Tuesday, whoever you vote for,” he said.

He added that each of the candidates running would have been unimaginable 50 years ago: “an African-American who has done public service for the last 25 or 30 years” (Mr. Thompson), “an openly gay woman, in a marriage” (Ms. Quinn), “an outer-borough candidate” discussing issues “that would have been considered and unthinkable 50 years ago” (Mr. Weiner), an “Asian-American” (Mr. Liu) and a candidate who has “become a symbol of progressive politics engaged in an inter-racial marriage” (Mr. de Blasio).

“When you look at who will be the next mayor,” he said, “It shows you the impact that the civil rights movement has had.”

Still, the tension remained.

When it was his turn to speak, Mr. Thompson repeatedly referred to Mr. Sharpton as his friend. “And underline that everybody,” he stressed, “because he is a friend. Let no one, you know, read anything into what’s goin’ on right now. Rev, Sharpton has been a friend for over 30 years.”

Bill de Blasio at the National Action Network.

Bill de Blasio.

He went on to tout the significance of the recent anniversary of the March on Washington, crediting civil rights leaders for making his bid possible, and stressed the need for more affordable housing as well as getting guns off the street. Every neighborhood, he said, deserved to be safe–but without racial profiling or the “misuse of the way stop and frisk has been used.”

Front-runner Mr. de Blasio, who has surged in the polls, rivaling Mr. Thompson among black voters in particular, demonstrated his appeal, speaking passionately about the need to address income inequality after 12 years of a billionaire mayor. “It’s time to use every tool that government has to create some fairness,” he said, vowing to “end the stop-and-frisk era once and for all.”

(In a sign of how much things have changed, the gathered reporters eagerly followed Mr. De Blasio out of the building to as him questions, just as Mr. Weiner was taking the stage.)

But the crowd favorite was Mr. Liu, who described himself as the true progressive in the race and slammed Mr. Thompson and Mr. de Blasio as “Billy-come-lately’s” on stop-and-frisk. But taking a playbook from Mr. de Blasio, who features his multiracial family regularly on the campaign trail, Mr. Liu ended by pointing out that his wife and son, Joey, were in the audience.

“Joey’s working on it, but it’s gonna take him a lot longer to grow his fro,” he joked in a reference to Dante de Blasio’s famous hair. “You know what I’m saying?”