Sharpton Will Seek Jewish Dollars, Says an Aide

By E.J. Kessler

Published January 17, 2003, issue of January 17, 2003.
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Reverend Al Sharpton is seeking campaign contributions from the Jewish community like any other presidential candidate, according to his political adviser.

Former Bronx Democratic Party chairman Roberto Ramirez told the Forward that Sharpton’s “progressive, populist and clear message” would attract Jewish campaign dollars despite his often dicey relations with the community. The civil rights firebrand is anathema to many New York Jews because of conduct many Jews viewed as inflammatory during two local racial incidents: the 1991 Crown Heights riots and the demonstrations that preceded the 1995 torching of a Jewish-owned clothing store in Harlem. Eight people died in those incidents.

Nevertheless, Ramirez said Sharpton’s platform of “not going to war unless it’s a last resort, on challenging government to be responsive to poor people and to women and to people who cannot speak for themselves” would gain him money in the “progressive and… also Jewish community.”

“I would hope and argue that in there lies a wealth of support,” Ramirez said in an interview in his New York office Monday.

Jewish donors supply a vastly disproportionate share of the millions raised by Democratic presidential candidates; the amount has never been measured, but political operatives say that it is more than half.

Ramirez said that Sharpton, who plans on creating a presidential exploratory committee later this month, did not need as much money as some others would.

“Historically, Sharpton has managed to run worthwhile campaigns without having to raise the same kind of money that other people have,” said Ramirez, who has been acting as Sharpton’s campaign manager, although he said the role will eventually go to someone else. He attributed Sharpton’s ability to operate with scant resources to his celebrity and ability to work the grassroots. “When we went to Boston there were 12 cameras there. Right now, he is more likely to have access to unpaid media than any other candidate for president.”

Sharpton previously ran unsuccessfully for mayor and senator in New York.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a Sharpton confidant, said the minister would have “limited” support in the Jewish community.

“He has sought rapprochement with the Jewish community,” Schneier said, but “the Jewish community at large is very suspect and remains very much on edge when it comes to Al Sharpton and his candidacy.”

Although Ramirez conceded that Sharpton will need money “because we intend to be competitive in all states,” he said Sharpton, who some Democratic strategists are dismissing as a fringe candidate, would succeed in raising enough cash. Meanwhile, despite the fact that political fundraising is underdeveloped in the minority community, the minister has built a “base” among such wealthy African Americans as Johnnie Cochran, Michael Jackson and James Brown. “We’re not going to raise money… just from black people,” Ramirez said, likening Sharpton’s appeal to that of “public radio and public television.”

“The networks and cable stations are self-funded, but there’s a reason people send $100 to Channel 13 and National Public Radio,” Ramirez said. “That is because they do something that otherwise would not exist and some people attribute some value to that. I’m willing to bet that some people attribute some value to some of the issues Sharpton raises.”

Ramirez said he did not think there would be any special tensions between Sharpton’s presidential campaign and that of the Jewish candidate in the race, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman. He said Lieberman and Sharpton last saw each other when they shared a plane on Sunday. When the minister greeted the senator, Sharpton joked that Lieberman would make a good vice president, Ramirez said.

“Democrats across the country, particularly African-American and Latino Democrats, were overwhelmingly supportive of the Lieberman vice presidential historical nomination…. I think they will judge Lieberman not because he is Jewish, but on his record,” Ramirez said. “I think that’s where it might become a little bit tense, not because he’s Jewish or because Sharpton is African American, but where does Senator Lieberman stand on issues Sharpton is likely to raise, like affirmative action… Vieques, bilingual education and inclusion into a political process? It won’t play along the lines of racial or religious basis, but I think it will be a challenge to the Lieberman campaign, just like it will be a challenge to everybody else [in the race]. They’re going to have to define themselves on these issues.”

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