Politics 2004Week of January 19

POWELL FOR SHARPTON (OR, HARLEM POLITICS MADE EASY) It is rare to find elected officials endorsing Al Sharpton, the longest of long shots for the Democratic nomination for President. So that’s why it raised quite a few eyebrows from Harlem to Washington last week when the clergyman-candidate got the blessings of the heir to one of the most famous names among African-American leaders as well as a politician in his own right: New York State Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell, IV, namesake-son of the legendary Democratic congressman from Harlem (1944-70) and himself a major political player among Empire State Democrats. Appearing with Sharpton at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the 41-year-old Powell weighed in strongly, calling for support for the flamboyant preacher in the district’s Democratic primary January 13 “[to] ensure that the great works and sacrifices of men like Dr. King and my father were not in vain.” Powell went on to proclaim that Sharpton “has the experience and the courage to fight for the rights of all Americans and for the rights of the residents of the district who for far too long have suffered taxation without representation.” For those who think that such an embrace for a candidate who has neither held nor sought elective office before and has served jail time for income tax evasion is a bit much, the Byzantine nature and internecine rivalries of Harlem politics must be understood. The Sharpton endorsement by Powell is only the latest step in a drama dating back to 1970, when thirtysomething state legislator Charles Rangel upset the elder Powell for renomination to Congress by a much-disputed 150 votes. At the time, Rangel’s onetime mentor Powell had been more absent than not for votes in Congress following a protracted two-year legal battle that ended with the Supreme Court’s overturning the House’s refusal to seat the Harlem Democrat in 1967. Powell had also been battling the cancer that would kill him two years later at age 64. In 1994, Adam IV—a former assistant district attorney and at the time a member of the New York City Council—sought revenge by challenging Rep. Rangel in the Democratic primary. But Rangel, who would have become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee had Democrats retained the House that year, prevailed with 61% of the vote. Few Harlem pundits and pols, however, doubt that when and if the 73-year-old Rangel retires, Powell will make another bid for the House district that was created in 1944 and whose first congressman was his father. It is also considered a foregone conclusion that Rangel will back a candidate other than Powell to succeed him. Powell has signaled as much himself. Just last week, friends received an invitation for a fund-raising event at the Sugar Shack Restaurant in New York, January 29, from the “Powell for Congress” Committee. “In the next few years,” reads an enclosed message from the assemblyman, “I hope to represent you in the United States Congress.” Among other Democrats mentioned for the Harlem House seat are State Sen. David Paterson and theRev. Calvin Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church whose first two pastors were Powell’s grandfather and father. The old rivalry continues in the presidential race of today. Rangel became one of the first House members to endorse Wesley Clark for President and has been campaigning vigorously for the retired general in South Carolina. Now Powell has embraced another candidate with a following in Harlem. In aligning himself with Sharpton, Powell also puts himself on the same team as Black Enterprise Magazine founder Earl Graves, Essence Magazine founder Edward Lewis, and Pierre Sutton, chairman of the board of Inner City Broadcasting Corp. and son of former Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton. All could become key financial backers of Powell when and if Rangel decides to step down. SHORT TAKES Rowland’s Final Days? In 1963, British War Minister John Profumo was forced to resign not because of his extramarital affair with Christine Keeler, but because he had initially lied about it. So it seems these days with Connecticut GOP Gov. John Rowland. Last week, he took to statewide television to apologize for lying about accepting work on his vacation cottage from people who do business with the state. As bad as the state labor on Rowland’s private property appears, it is not clear there are any laws on the book that make this a crime in the Nutmeg State. But because he admitted to lying, Republican Rowland appears be on a downward spin. According to a University of Connecticut poll conducted shortly after his public apology, 63% of voters statewide want Rowland to resign, compared to 58% in the same poll who wanted him to resign before the speech. The same survey showed 56% of voters favor Rowland’s impeachment. Rowland’s fellow GOPer, Rep. Rob Simmons, made headlines by saying the governor has lost “moral authority” and should resign. Moreover, 11 of the state’s 15 Republican state senators have called on Rowland to quit. The governor was steadfastly insisting, however, that he would complete his third term, which expires in 2006. McCarthy Out: In a recent revelation that surprised many, Rep. Karen McCarthy (D.-Mo.) announced that she was battling alcoholism and would not seek re-election this year. Onetime schoolteacher and five-termer McCarthy (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 9%)had taken a fall down a congressional escalator last March, spurring rumors he hade had a drinking problem and inspiring a primary challenge. With her exit, however, all eyes on the Show-Me State’s 5th District were on former Kansas City Mayor Emmanuel Cleaver, who is black, as the leading Democratic contender. From 1982 to’94, the district was represented by black Democrat Alan Wheat, who gave up his House seat to run unsuccessfully for the Senate in ’94 and was succeeded by McCarthy—one of the few times a district held by a black Democrat has subsequently elected a white. With the district in Democratic hands since 1948 and giving Al Gore 60% of its votes in 2000, the next House Member is almost sure to be a Democrat. Giuliani’s Rove? That’s what Rudy-watchers are calling Chris Henick, the latest addition to the former mayor’s new firm, Giuliani Partners. A former executive director of the Republican Governors Association and deputy to White House Counselor Karl Rove, Henick is widely regarded as one of the top political operatives on the GOP side—just the type Giuliani needs, some pundits say, to craft a strategy to seek the Republican nomination for President in ’08. “But I’m doing more business than politics,” Henick told me last week, noting that the bulk of his work is with things such as merchant banking and purchasing companies. But Henick also pointed out he would assist Giuliani in his capacity as chairman of the Host Committee for the GOP National Convention this summer. Wadhams to the Helm: When then-Rep. (1996-2002) John Thune lost the U.S. Senate race in South Dakota two years ago by the closest margin of any Senate contest in the nation, a number of his fellow South Dakota Republicans grumbled that if he had had a different campaign team, the outcome might have been different. Thune’s campaign operation, went the complaints, discouraged the conservative (lifetime ACU rating: 87%) lawmaker from staying firmly on the message that energizes the right-of-center base. Whatever the truth to that complaint, Thune is back this year as the Republican nominee against Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and has no holdovers from his ’02 campaign staff. Most significantly, Thune last week tapped one of the most respected of conservative campaign operatives—a man with several political scalps under his belt—to run the race against Daschle: Dick Wadhams, one of the few campaign managers who has worked exclusively for conservatives. After cutting his political eyeteeth in the campaigns of conservative former Sen. (1978-90) Bill Armstrong (R-Colo.), Wadhams went on to manage the winning bids of numerous right-of-center Republicans in Colorado. Among those he guided to victory were present Sen. Wayne Allard and Gov. Bill Owens.