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Mr. Sharpton’s Neighborhood

New York magazine recently reported on the continuing political influence of Al Sharpton, a man whose last foray into politics was the 2004 Democratic presidential primary in which he received negligible support. For some inexplicable reason, Sharpton plays the role of kingmaker in Democratic circles, with candidates falsely assuming that he holds sway with black voters. Sitting with him at the swank Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, Geoffrey Gray listens to voicemails left on Sharpton’s phone from both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton seeking Sharpton’s advice. “In the end they may all hate my guts,” Sharpton says. “But it’s the reality of the landscape . . . how much they need me and how bad. I’m sure right now they know they need me.”

One would hope that the F.B.I.’s subpoenaing several of Sharpton’s closest associates as part of an investigation to determine whether he swindled the government out of federal campaign-matching funds four years ago would dissuade the leading Democratic contenders from so shamelessly paying obeisance to this man. But if instigating race riots and defaming public servants were not enough to get Sharpton booted out of respectable circles, what’s a little embezzlement of taxpayer money?

Sharpton’s lawyer told the New York Daily News “I can’t think of a time when the Rev. Sharpton wasn’t under investigation,” which is probably accurate. His latest travails conjure up memory of this December 2000 New York Times article–perhaps the most hilarious item ever to appear in the paper–detailing a deposition Sharpton gave to the lawyers of the prosecutor he defamed in the Tawana Brawley case:

The company, he says, pays part of his rent and all of his utilities for the family home on Ditmas Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. It bought some of his furniture and a couple of his business suits. It pays for most of his telephone calls. He says it now pays the $15,000 tuition for each of his two young daughters who attend the prestigious Brooklyn private school Poly Prep Country Day School. . . .
Mr. Bolnick wanted to know if Rev. Als Productions maintained an office in Mr. Sharpton’s home. Mr. Sharpton said it did.

”A separate entrance?” Mr. Bolnick asked.

”We use the front entrance for Rev. Als,” Mr. Sharpton said. ”The back entrance is what we use for the family and guests.”

Mr. Bolnick seemed a bit confused. ”But when I walk in the front door to visit, to make a business meeting with Rev. Als, I walk through your personal residence?”

Not exactly, Mr. Sharpton said. ”We consider it our personal residence, one part of the house, one that you would not walk through.”

The answer was still not getting through to Mr. Bolnick. He asked again, ”So I can go through the front door to Rev. Als without going through your personal residence?”

Mr. Sharpton then explained how his entertainment business related to his floor plan: ”We consider the living room and dining room part of Rev. Als. We entertain people for speaking engagements — hopefully the artist will sign with us. That’s all part of doing the business.”

”If I have Artist A at 1902 Ditmas and they eat in the dining room,” he said, ”that is a Rev. Als.”

The exchange ended with Mr. Bolnick noting that while he himself met clients in his living room, that did not make it an office.

”There is an office there,” Mr. Sharpton said of his house. ”But when you walk in the door, you are not walking into the office. But nor are you walking into my living quarters, either.”

On second thought, any politician worth his salt ought to be consulting Sharpton, whose parsing and inability to answer a simple question prove him to be a valuable political consultant.



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