CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
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Harlem Two-fer: If there are satellite trucks in the neighborhood, this must be a good time for an Al Sharpton rally…

In Harlem on Monday, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry rallied with some of his supporters among Harlem’s establishment Democratic politicos.

But what is a New York event without some good old upstaging street theater? Lying in wait across Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard were the good Rev. Sharpton and some of his supporters, who held a rally in front of the Adam Clayton Powell office building, a monument to the state’s welfare bureaucracy.

We didn’t catch much of what Sharpton was saying. Suffice it to say his message was, at base: “I am Al Sharpton and I will not be ignored on my own turf,” or maybe, “these African Americans are selling out to the Man.” Sharpton many times has accused the Democratic Party of treating African Americans like a “mistress” that you don’t take home to mother – in other words, taking blacks for granted.

Kerry’s message at the Alhambra ballroom was, to paraphrase: “I am the friend of the civil rights establishment, and I will advance its agenda.” That agenda was defined by several speakers as educational equality, affirmative action, manufacturing jobs and Section 8 housing.

Kerry attacked President Bush, saying Bush was going to “run away from his own record” in his speech that day before the Republican Governors’ Association, because “he doesn’t have a record to run on.”

He chided Bush as the only president in memory “who hasn’t even met with the [Leadership] Council on Civil Rights and the NAACP.”

If Kerry added any new proposal on urban America to what was essentially his stump speech, however, it wasn’t apparent — so maybe Sharpton had a point.

* * *

Fancy Fencing: Campaigning in New York this week, Kerry issued a statement condemning Sunday’s suicide bombing in Jerusalem — his first such statement during the campaign — and softening his line on Israel’s security fence.

Kerry had called the fence a “barrier to peace” and a “provocative and counterproductive” measure in a speech to the Arab American Institute last fall. Now, however, he sounds much more conciliatory.

“It is ironic that this act of terror takes place on the eve of consideration by the International Court of Justice of Israel’s security fence,” wrote Kerry in the statement. “The Court does not have and should not accept jurisdiction over this case. Israel’s security fence is a legitimate act of self defense. No nation can stand by while its children are blown up at pizza parlors and on buses. While President Bush is rightly discussing with Israel the exact route of the fence to minimize the hardship it causes innocent Palestinians, Israel has a right and a duty to defend its citizens. The fence only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel.”

In the statement, Kerry also stressed that “Yasir Arafat’s support for terrorism has already rendered him unfit as a partner for peace. If there is to be any progress toward peace, the current Palestinian leadership can and must crack down on the terror and stop teaching the hate that fuels it.”

Kerry is not the first candidate to condemn a suicide bombing in a statement. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean did so in an August 19 statement.

North Carolina Senator John Edwards is also making his case to Empire State Jews. Two local officials supporting him reiterated his strong language against terrorism in a conference call with reporters Tuesday, and his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, met with members of the New York Board of Rabbis on Wednesday.

* * *

New York, New York: Edwards took his jobs-and-trade message to the Empire State last week, adding some swell local color to his “Two Americas” stump speech.

Speaking Thursday at Columbia University, the handsome Edwards, smile flashing, echoed a theme advanced by candidate Fernando “Freddy” Ferrer in the 2001 mayoral campaign. Edwards spoke of “two New Yorks — one of privilege and comfort and one of struggle” that exist “within a short walk of each other” and “collide every day.”

“The president only knows one street in New York City: Wall Street,” he added, with populist flourish. “How about 125th Street, how about Flatbush Avenue, how about Fordham Road, how about Jamaica Avenue?”

A supporter of Edwards, Orthodox Jewish Assemblyman Ryan Karben, said Edwards’s economic message would resonate among Jews who are experiencing economic difficulties. “It’s not just chasidic families,” he said. “His message resonates with a lot of middle-income folks who are underemployed, such as those who have been downsized in the financial services industry.”

Not surprisingly, some New York Jews have noticed the existence of “two New Yorks,” and the theme has featured in their appeals for a just society.

For example, the executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, John Ruskay, told the New York Times last year, “We have these two New Yorks. One which is reasonably okay, even in bad times, and looking forward to renewed prosperity. And we have another group of elderly and immigrants and large families who increasingly find themselves on the cusp of not being able to make it.”

* * *

Tikkun’s Take: The Tikkun Community, the left-leaning band gathered around Tikkun Magazine and led by erstwhile Hillary Clinton guru Rabbi Michael Lerner, used the occasion of Dean’s exit from the presidential race last week to take a swipe at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and urge a vote for Rep. Dennis Kucinich.

“Dean was betrayed in many ways, partly by his own opportunism in the months before the Iowa caucus when he started to try to convince people he was a conventional politician and sought the backing of Al Gore et al,” the magazine wrote in its weekly e-mail. “Perhaps the most telling opportunist act was to make as national chair a guy named Steve Grossman, who had previously served as national chair of Aipac, the pro-Sharon voice of the American Jewish community. Live by the sword, die by the sword: The day before the Wisconsin primary, Grossman announced that he was quitting the campaign for Dean and might seek a position with Kerry, thereby making the major story how Dean’s campaign was falling apart, which of course became self-fulfillingly true, because if everyone has been brainwashed to believe that the only important thing is to find someone who can beat Bush, then signs of weakness are already the definitive reason to abandon candidate A in favor of candidate B. We reject that kind of thinking, but many others did not. Apparently, as Grossman’s moves suggest, making your campaign depend on your connection with Aipac types is a risky thing to do if you want real loyalty.”

The magazine also argued, “Now there’s no reason not to vote for Dennis Kucinich in the primaries. If you really think that either Kerry or Edwards are ‘electable’ and could beat Bush, as the polls indicate, then why not send a strong message to both of them that there remains a strong progressive constituency inside the Democratic Party that will hold them accountable and whose votes cannot be assured without paying attention to our concerns for peace and justice.”






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