CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By E.J. Kessler

Published April 18, 2003, issue of April 18, 2003.

The presidential campaign of the Rev. Al Sharpton has yet to post any first-quarter contribution filing, but that’s okay, according to Sharpton’s chief strategist.

“Why do political candidates raise money? To get their message out and energize voters. My candidate starts with that as his greatest strength,” the strategist, New York consultant Roberto Ramirez, told the Forward. “We’re not going to spend money on focus groups and message development. Glitzy commercials? Don’t be waiting for them. We’re not attempting to read polls. We’re attempting to shape polls.”

The only thing the campaign needs to spend any money on right now is a Winnebago, which it plans to lease. “I’d probably call it the ‘Sharpton Express,’” Ramirez said.

No doubt, Sharpton could use some reliable transportation. After he failed to show up at a forum for young minority journalists last Friday, his handlers blamed canceled flights. But when the forum’s organizers checked with the airline, all flights had taken off as scheduled. The incident prompted a flurry of news articles and was still unexplained as the Forward went to press.

Ramirez, a former Bronx County Democratic chairman known for his hilarious rhetoric, did not disappoint the Forward over drinks at Manhattan’s Pipa restaurant last Thursday. Likening Sharpton to the swordsmen who fought in the treetops in the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” Ramirez said, “My candidate has the ability to defy gravity. The Rev. Al Sharpton is running for president of the United States. Isn’t that the definition of defying gravity? He’s gone from a medallion-wearing activist to a national political leader…. It’s all how you see the laws of physics: Manage them and defy them.”

But lest any other candidate think that Sharpton’s campaign is about airy metaphors or cinematic swordplay, Ramirez slipped in a reminder that his goal is brass-knuckles politics.

“There are two people running in this campaign: the presumptive nominee, and Al Sharpton,” he said. “Everyone else is a distraction. Who is the presumptive nominee? That’s the question mark. That is the matrix in which we exist…. At the end of the day, there will be a national constituency — African Americans, Latinos, labor, antiwar activists — that the presumptive nominee will have to address. Who are they going to call? I’d rather be me than them right now.”

* * *

The presidential campaign of Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman has picked up a second staffer from the National Jewish Democratic Council. Stephanie Friedman Schneider, who worked for three years as the NJDC’s development director, has joined the campaign as an aide to its director of community outreach, Jay Footlik.



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