by Yvette Carnell
Al Sharpton’s claim to fame has always been his ability to employ race as a weapon against white business owners and politicians, just to name a few. In a piece exclusively in the print issue of Counterpunch, I outlined Sharpton’s strategy for silencing black critics:
The strategy Sharpton used to fend off black critics was far different than the one he’d employed against mainstream white critics. Whenever Sharpton was challenged from within the black community, he routinely dismissed the criticism as coming from establishment black leaders who were threatened by his encroachment on what was once their territory. In 2000, when Sharpton was beating the drums for the Burger King boycott over disagreements the fast food conglomerate was having with black franchise owner La-Van Hawkins, Sharpton grew livid after he learned that Rev. Jesse Jackson had also met with the executives at the fast food chain. Sharpton described the ‘secret’ meeting between Jackson and Burger King CEO Colin Storm as a traitorous act intended to undermine him. The Village Voice quoted Sharpton as having said that Jackson’s actions “can only be interpreted as an attempt to divide the black community.” The irony here is that, regardless of what you think of Rev. Jackson or his politics, he marched alongside Dr. King and was with the civil rights icon when he was gunned down. Jackson has an authentic relationship to black movement politics in this country. But here was Sharpton, the self-anointed street preacher, attempting to take Jackson to task for undermining him.
Given that history, it’s no surprise that Sharpton had the unmitigated gall to scold Rep. Charlie Rangel for injecting race into his congressional election. Pot, meet kettle. As the New York Times pointed out, the political play by Sharpton resulted in negative headlines for Rangel, who is in the trenches of a political battle that may be his last.
Rangel is up against Adriano D. Espaillat, a state senator who almost took Rangel’s seat last time around, and Rev. Michael A. Walrond Jr, a Harlem preacher.
As the New York Times notes, this latest stunt by Sharpton is an attempt by the unelected street preacher to expand his power base in New York:
A loss by Mr. Rangel, who was elected in 1970, would put a bold punctuation mark on the end of an era in New York, and for the generation of African-American political leaders who came to power in the 1960s and ’70s. Mr. Rangel and Representative John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, are the only two original members of the Black Caucus still in Congress. The other members of Harlem’s Gang of Four were the late Basil A. Paterson, Percy E. Sutton and former Mayor David N. Dinkins.
Al Sharpton had a few words about why he thinks Rangel is in trouble.
“Part of the problem is that they didn’t groom their replacements,” he said in an interview last week, according to the Times. “When you don’t groom your replacements, and you operate like you’re going to live forever, then people in the next generation, that you did not invest in, start taking steps themselves. That’s where I think a Michael Walrond and an Adriano Espaillat come from.”
True enough. One question, though: Who is Al Sharpton’s replacement and when does s/he start?
Sharpton also said that the Congressional Black Caucus can’t come to him for assistance because he doesn’t owe them anything.
“Whatever I have or don’t have, you did not help me build it,” he said, referring to CBC members who’ve sided with Rangel. “So what you can’t do is come to me and say I owe you. I built my reputation, influence, whatever you want to call it, because I fought civil rights issues and people responded. None of them put me in position. It’s just that simple.”
During the interview, Sharpton admitted that this is also partly sour grapes on his part, since Rangel did not endorse Sharpton’s doomed to fail presidential bid, explaining, “…you really can’t argue that with me, of why I owe an endorsement I never got. You just can’t make that argument.”