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Should Al Sharpton Run for President?

Aired August 20, 2001 - 19:30   ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, from jail to the presidential trail. Days after being released from prison, Al Sharpton announces he's thinking about running for president. Does he really have a chance?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the CROSSFIRE, Reverend Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. From prison to president? It's never been done before, but the Reverend Al Sharpton says he could be the first.

Fresh out of a New York City jail, where he served 90 days for protesting the Navy's bombing of Vieques Island and lost 30 pounds, Sharpton came to Washington today to announce formation of an exploratory committee to run for president in the 2004 Democratic primary, first one to officially announce.

Unfair treatment of African-Americans in the last election, says Sharpton, spurred him to run. The colorful and controversial New York minister has run before for Senate and mayor, though never elected. But now he insists he's rested, trim, cleanly-shaven and ready to rumble. Here tonight to tell us how he intends to get from here to there, and whether or not Al Gore has called him yet to wish him good luck, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend, welcome.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Welcome. Thank you. Welcome back to society for me, really.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Well, it's nice to see you. Now, Al Sharpton, you have never been elected to anything. As far I can tell you tried a couple times, failed pretty miserably. Now you're talking about running for president of the United States. Shouldn't you start with your local school board first?

SHARPTON: Well, I mean, Dwight Eisenhower was never elected to anything before he was elected president. And the when you look at the proposed Democratic field of people that may run, they're talking about Senator Edwards in North Carolina, who never ran for anything before he was elected to the Senate two years ago. Corzine in New Jersey. So when you look at the fact that now you have a lot of people who have only done things like get rich, go state into the U.S. Senate, clearly, someone who's spent two decades or more working on public policy issues certainly has more of a background to run for the White House than that. I mean, we have the governor of Minnesota who -- the only thing he ever did with wrestle before he became a governor.

CARLSON: No, but wait a second. I guess the difference between you and Dwight Eisenhower, among the many differences, is that you participated in the Tawana Brawley hoax, therefore you can't be elected. So the best you can do is pull off a kind of street theater, changing yourself to a bridge in snarling traffic. You're just going to mess it up for the other Democrats in the race. That's the best you can do, isn't it?

SHARPTON: First of all, I've never chained myself to a bridge. Secondly, when I ran for mayor of New York, people said it was the best I could do. We almost forced the first Democratic runoff in 20 years. I think what we can do is raise issues, bring people that are invisible into the public eye -- that's the worst we could do. The best we could do is win. And I think that Mr. Eisenhower was involved in many things I disagree with, like you disagreed with the Brawley case. And I think the voters will decide, and I think that if we choose to make this race, I'll make my case to the voters.

PRESS: But surely you know you're -- as you indicated already, you're not going to be alone. One name you did not mention is the other Al, if I may call him that, in this race. Al Gore is back, he's coming back. He's going to be in California, I think it's next week, doing some fund-raising. Top aide to the former vice president told me that he's made his decision he's going to run. He got the popular vote in 2000. So don't you think that if Al Gore wants it, he deserves it?

SHARPTON: I think that the people will determine that, if I choose to run. My disappointment with some of what happened in 2000 is something that I'd like to see debated, whether my exploratory committee says I should run or not.

I think that in many ways people were abandoned, voters were disenfranchised, particularly in Florida. Many feel were not -- did not feel that they were advocated aggressively for. And many of the issues that should have been raised around voting rights, as well as other issues of concern, like the criminal justice system, like public health care and other items were abandoned.

Part of my attention, Bill, is that the Democratic Party has drifted to the right. And it's almost like they're saying we want to keep our base vote but we want you to pretend like you're not there so we can get elected. We should never go back into that kind of politics.

PRESS: Well, to follow up with a couple of questions. No. 1, do you blame Al Gore for that and No. 2, he got 90 percent of the African-American vote in 2000. Why should blacks vote for you rather than him? Just because you're black?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, no one is saying blacks. If I run, I'd be running for all voters. And the reason that all voters should vote for me as opposed to someone else would be the thing that I would raise as my argument, I'm not asking for a segregated election. I'm not just telling blacks to vote for me.

Secondly, Al Gore got 90 percent of the black vote against George Bush. That does not mean he would get that against someone else, if someone else runs, and he does choose to run. So we have to cross that bridge when we get there.

CARLSON: Now, Reverend Sharpton, in December "The New York Times" ran a fascinating story about you. I just want to read the first couple lines. "Sharpton says he owns no suits, but has access to a dozen or so. He owns no TV. He says he has no checking accounts, no savings accounts, no credit cards, no debit cards, no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds, no paintings, no antiques -- and yet he sends his daughters to expensive private schools." It says that you were indicted on charges of tax fraud and stealing in 1989, and in 1993 you pled guilty to not filing a tax return.

If you run for president, you're going to have to answer questions about these and other matters having to do with your finances.

SHARPTON: As I've always answered. It's not a problem. I had answer them when I ran for U.S. Senate, since then. And they were answered clearly, otherwise you would have read that. I had to do that when I ran for mayor. You can't run for public office without disclosure. It's a non issue. First of all, that story, which was based on a deposition, was what I owned singularly, without my wife. I don't own any of those things without my wife. Everything I own, I own with her. My wife was not subject to the deposition because she was a person being sued.

Like when I sued the Republican Party and individually the chairman of the party, he could only answer to if he was (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I would hope if you're married that you don't own the china and your wife own the chair. I hope you own everything together.


CARLSON: OK, that's not exactly what you said in your deposition, but let's move on to some of the other things...

SHARPTON: That's exactly what I said.

CARLSON: Let's move on to some other things you're going to have to answer for if you run, and those are the statements you make -- we could choose from many. Let's choose one you made yesterday. You said -- I'm quoting now -- "I think that, first of all, in a time that we no longer have a Cold War, there is no real threat to American security."

You were describing why we don't need an armed services like we have now.

SHARPTON: There's no imminent threat. In a time that some of the more right wing colleagues of yours are keep -- in my judgment, playing bogie man foreign policy, it's not like we are facing what we faced when I was a kid.

CARLSON: Do you read the newspapers? Do you know what's going on in Israel right now? Or North Korea?

SHARPTON: Do you want me to answer?

CARLSON: Yes, I do.

SHARPTON: I think that we have, in reading the newspapers -- clearly, we have security measures that have to be in place. But I think that the way they want to escalate and drive people to feeling that they need almost a blank federal check -- I think is extreme. And I was answering that in a question about why I think we cannot just discard what happens to human life on places like Vieques in the name of defense, because what the argument is being made, is it's all right to harm people in Vieques because we have such imminent danger. I don't accept that argument.

PRESS: Well, I want to touch on Vieques for just a second. Because when you were sentenced -- and I would be the first to argue on your defense, on your behalf, that was an unfair sentence for any peaceful protester in this country. But you said, Reverend, at the time, Nelson Mandela went from prison to president. I think that's kind of a clever line. But at the same time, Nelson Mandela was protesting Apartheid. Martin Luther King went to jail protesting what was happening in Birmingham.

I mean, can you really compare what you did to this? I mean, this is a Navy bombing of a target site. It's not really the same level, is it?

SHARPTON: First of all, that was not the comparison. They were talking about whether or not people that engage in protest can ever go and run in office, and I used Mandela as an example of that in history. I wasn't comparing -- first of all, Mandela want to jail 27 years, not 90 days. So there's no comparison there. I don't think anyone could compare with Nelson Mandela.

But I do think that if Dr. King were alive, he would raise questions about Vieques. In fact, his widow, Mrs. King, wrote us in jail and commended us for operating in the King spirit. That's not to say which issue is up here, what issue is down here. It is to say that many of the things, such as nonviolent peaceful civil disobedience, we engage in, we learn from people like King, even though, clearly, they are operated on a monumental level.

This week, his son and I are going to be speaking at the United Nations at the "Keep the Dream Alive" march this Saturday. Because we intend to keep the tradition of nonviolent protest alive Dr. King taught America. And it is threatened when you have the courts now seek to criminalize and give unfair, long terms to people that engage in that.

PRESS: Well, let me come back to why you're in Washington today, because even if it's just to form an exploratory committee, what you're basically saying is, "I think I'm qualified to be president of the United States and I want to put some feelers out there, talk to some people, see if I can put something together."

Now, that's a pretty big job, if I must say so, president of the United States. You've never run a grocery store, Reverend Al Sharpton, and you're saying you can run this entire -- you have no executive experience whatsoever. What makes you think you can run the country?

SHARPTON: First of all, I think I could run the country because I think that the president of the United States has to have a vision and has to have a concern for the citizens that they would govern, and to bring the right people into their cabinet that could administer and make that vision real.

Again, we are in a nation today where a guy can walk from a wrestling ring and govern the entire state of Minnesota. I think it's absurd to think that people like me could not run the country. If I said -- if I came to Washington today and said I wanted to be the next Michael Jordan, that's permitted. Or if I wanted to be the next Michael Jackson, that's permitted. But to say I want to govern, it's unthinkable.

PRESS: I wouldn't believe that either.

SHARPTON: Well, whether you believe it or not, it would be accepted. I think it's absolutely ridiculous to think that people that can engage in public policy fights, that have been able to make impact on them nationally cannot also govern. The other -- the best example of my ability to govern is to look at the intellect and the thought process that I have tried to demonstrate and compare with the present occupant. Every time I look at George Bush I know I'm qualified to at least do what he does.

CARLSON: So your argument, as I understand it, is that Jesse Ventura has lowered the bar, so you're ready.

SHARPTON: No, what I'm saying is, if people can accept him, then suddenly they can't put different criteria on me.

CARLSON: If Jesse Ventura, why not Al Sharpton?

SHARPTON: I'm saying that Jesse Ventura may be doing a good job, but based what on you'd see on paper you would never have thought that. I'm saying that let's be real in our analysis and that's all.

CARLSON: Well, if you're -- the vision you described clearly grows out of your experience leading efforts and protests in New York. If you run, will boycotts against Asian store owners be part of your platform?

SHARPTON: I've never boycotted Asian stores. CARLSON: Is that true? Because the National Action Network has, as you know, a "Buy Black" initiative that encourages what clearly seems to me a basically racist initiative.

SHARPTON: No, not all.

CARLSON: Black consumers to buy only from black stores. How is that not racist?

SHARPTON: First of all, that is not what the "Buy Black" campaign does. What it says is that we should support black businesses who have been redlined and in many ways don't enjoy the consumers of their own community. That's as racist as when I was growing up, people used to say "eat kosher." People have right to show ethnic pride in the businesses of their community.

CARLSON: First of all, Kosher food -- that's a religious proscription.

SHARPTON: You started by saying we boycotted Korean stores, and I want you to document that. You went from saying we boycotted Korean stores to say "Buy Black." That is not the same thing.

CARLSON: Well, I'm saying that your group encourages black consumers to buy from stores simply because they are owned by black people. I submit that's a racist idea.

SHARPTON: Absolutely. My committee says that people should not buy from people that are black. Blacks, whites, Asians, whoever. It doesn't say just black people. You are reading in what you want to read in. Ask me what the "Buy Black" committee does. Don't start interpreting -- you are talking to me. It's better to beat up on me when I'm not here. When I'm here a can defend myself.

CARLSON: Absolutely true. Well, we're going to have plenty of opportunities to continue beating up the new Al Sharpton, asking more questions about your potential run.

SHARPTON: I look forward to it.

CARLSON: Bill Press and I will return in just a moment on CROSSFIRE with Al Sharpton.


CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. Al Sharpton has returned. Slim, rested and ready after 90 days in prison, Sharpton came to Washington today to announce that he plans to consider running for president in 2004. At a press conference, Sharpton charged that the Democratic party has become too conservative, too beholden to corporate interests. But there was another implied message in Sharpton's remarks: Move over, Jesse Jackson. Is Al Sharpton the new face of America's black political leadership? Can he really hope to mount a credible presidential campaign? Joining us here in Washington to talk about himself, the one, the only, Al Sharpton. Bill? PRESS: Reverend Sharpton, as Tucker implies, there may be a personal agenda here to your exploratory committee for president. The "New York Post" put it this way a couple of days ago: "All of this background noise for what's plainly Sharpton's true plan -- supplanting Reverend Jesse Jackson as the de facto leader of black America and, by extension, of the left."

Is what you're trying to do, shove Jesse out of the picture?

SHARPTON: First of all, since Reverend Jackson ran for president in 1988, Doug Wilder, who was governor of Virginia ran. Was he trying to supplant Jesse Jackson? Alan Keys ran last time. Was he trying to supplant Jesse Jackson? I mean, that's ridiculous. People have the right to run. Is any black that decides to run for office supplanting another black or trying to come forward and be president and try to bring their views into presidential politics?

I think that that is a very ridiculous notion that I would be any different than Doug Wilder of Alan Keys or anyone else that wants to come and enter the presidential campaign.

PRESS: But you sort of ducked the question. Do you think it's time for Jesse Jackson to step aside and leave the leadership to someone else? Maybe you?

SHARPTON: Absolutely not. I think that Jesse Jackson has a role that he plays, I think that others, including me, have roles we play. I don't agree with the "New York Post" assessment that we have a de facto leader of black America. We have many black leaders, and we always did. At the march this Saturday, I have Kweisi Mfume speaking. Martin Luther King, III speaking.

I always work with other leaders. I worked with Lee Price of the National Urban League. And even when Dr. King was here -- and I don't think anyone measures near Dr. King -- he was not the only leader. Adam Powers in Congress, Thurgood Marshall in the courts, Malcolm X in the streets, Roy Wilkins at the head of the NAACP. All at the same time.

It's only some limited journalists that don't take enough time to study the movement that think we can only have one black leader at time. I think it really can't digest but one of us at a time. And it's not that we are inept in having enough of us, it's just that they can't stand but one at time. And that's their misfortune, not mine.

CARLSON: The truth is, Al Sharpton, that you have been savaging Jesse Jackson recently. Recently you accused him of smearing the blood of the slain Martin Luther King on himself for publicity purposes in 1968.

SHARPTON: Never said that.

CARLSON: Are you sure? Let me read you the quote. The Brawley thing -- you were being attacked for perpetuating the Brawley hoax. "The Brawley thing pales in comparison," you said. "Did I take the blood of the guy I loved to put on my shirt?" SHARPTON: Well, first of all, you didn't fabricate the rest of your question. You said that I said it for publicity reasons. If you want to misquote me, you should have finished your misquote.

CARLSON: You said he put the blood of Martin Luther King on his shirt.

SHARPTON: What I was saying, Tucker, was that just like in '84, when Reverend Jackson ran the first time, they tried to use that issue. I was responding, as you rightfully said, that they would try to use issues on me and distort them. So for me to have believed that distortion on Reverend Jackson, would believe the distortions that they have tried to use on me with the Brawley case or any other matter.

I don't believe that Reverend Jackson acted inaccurately or improperly around the King assassination. I wouldn't have supported him, I wouldn't have defended him. The fact of the matter is, I did not savage Reverend Jackson. I hosted one of the rallies supporting him this year.

So I think, again, the media wants to play this game. I'm not going to participate in that.


CARLSON: The fact is you did say that, and it strikes me that you only said that after the Karen Stanford matter came into the press. And I'm wondering...

SHARPTON: There were articles two years ago trying to play this Jackson against Sharpton around Burger King and other things. In fact, I did your late show around that, way before that. So again, I think that people are trying to read in what they want to read in. I held and hosted a rally supporting Reverend Jackson, and still support him.

He just made an arrangement, a multibillion dollar arrangement with a major auto dealer, and has done significant things in the last couple of weeks. And I think that are the kinds of things we can talk about if you want to talk about Reverend Jackson and I, how both of us are trying to address some corporate greed and the fact that a lot of people are being locked out. I think that those are the things we can talk about, rather than we try to fantasize on whether or not Reverend Jackson and I have a problem.

CARLSON: Well, you're the one who said it. I'm just quoting it...

SHARPTON: You read a quote that doesn't say any of that.

PRESS: Even though, Reverend Sharpton, you've been in prison for the last 90 days, you were still aware that there was a mayor's race in New York going on while you were locked up. Yesterday the Reverend James A. Ford, a distinguished African-American minister in New York, endorsed Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer. Who's your candidate for mayor for New York?

SHARPTON: I've not announced that yet. I probably won't until after the "Keep the Dream Alive" march this week. I've met with all the candidates in the Democratic primary. I met with them more than once and we're deciding that and we'll make that known in the next few days.

PRESS: But what are you waiting for? Why aren't you out there with the others, taking a choice right now? I mean, what's it going to depend on? Are you trying to get something out of somebody in for your endorsement?

SHARPTON: Again, I do not want to, at the time that I come out of jail, dealing with trying to organize this march, to overshadow that with a local endorsement when we're having a national march.

Secondly, if I don't do something, then what am I waiting on? If I do, I'm just jumping into everything all at one time. So since I'm going to be attacked either way, I'll at least stay focused on the strategy that I think is workable, and that is trying to put forward this national agenda first. And I will deal with home -- we have a chapter of National Action in Detroit. They have a mayor's race, and in other parts of the country, we're going to be dealing with mayor's races.

PRESS: How about naming us the one person you will not -- other than Bloomberg, I assume -- the one person you would not endorse.

SHARPTON: Rudy Giuliani.


PRESS: Right.

CARLSON: Now, Al Sharpton, just in the moments we have left, you lost 32 pounds in prison. You had, of course, the benefit of being in prison. For our non-incarcerated viewers, what weight loss tips can you give them?


SHARPTON: Don't go to jail. I wouldn't suggest that you would lose it the way I did. But what I did, I fasted. I didn't fast to lose weight. I fasted because it's a spiritual way of rejuvenating yourself when you're going through what I feel was an unjust sentencing. And I happened to lose 32 pounds. I'm now going to diet to try to maintain my fighting weight, so if I ever have the opportunity of getting in the ring with you and Bill again, I'm be in top-notch shape.

PRESS: Well, since Tucker went to the weight, I've got to go to the beard. I mean, the first thing you did to run for president was to shave your beard. Is there a message there for Al Gore?

SHARPTON: It's funny that there may be two Als in this race. One Al shaved and lost weight, the other one grew a beard and gained weight. So maybe we're meeting midway in the middle of the night somewhere here.

PRESS: Reverend Al Sharpton, on that point, thanks very much for joining us in the CROSSFIRE.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

PRESS: Brave man to take us both on. We appreciate your being here.

Tucker Carlson and I will have our frank assessment of the Sharpton exploratory committee for president coming up in closing comments.


CARLSON: OK, Bill, the quote of the century, Al Sharpton in "The New York Times." He doesn't "own" any suits but he has access to a dozen or so. I think the most pleasurable part of this entire campaign that he may be running will be watching him trying to explain the fact that he owns nothing and yet somehow spends 30 grand a year on sending his daughters to private school.

PRESS: But not only that, he's going to have to get all new suits because he lost 30 pounds.

Let me tell you something, Tucker. You know, you don't get to say this much about people in public life, but Al Sharpton has grown. I have seen him from when he was like a scruffy street protester you wouldn't want anything to do with, and now this guy is sharp. I don't think there's a prayer he could win the primary, but he could make a difference in this primary.

CARLSON: Well, unfortunately, in the process he's destroyed the lives of a lot of people involved in the Tawana Brawley hoax. And I don't think he's adequately answered for it and he defends it if you push him on it. He says I'm proud of it. He says she's still telling the truth when everybody in it has admitted it was a huge lie.

PRESS: I don't agree with him on that. I think he's moved beyond it, though. From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

CARLSON: And from the right I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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