Sharpton shapes up to face off with Giuliani
NEW YORK - Cue the theme music from "Rocky." With former Mayor Rudy Giuliani still the top-ranked Republican White House contender, the Rev. Al Sharpton says he's working himself into fighting trim.
"I get up 5:30 every morning, work out. I put Giuliani's picture on my treadmill," Sharpton told the New York Daily News. "I'm getting in shape to go on the road if he's the Republican nominee."
During Giuliani's eight years at City Hall, Sharpton went many rounds with the mayor, accusing him of insensitivity to black New Yorkers' concerns. The passage of time and Giuliani's national image as a Sept. 11 hero haven't softened Sharpton's antagonism.
He said he would travel the nation - targeting swing states such as Ohio and Florida - on a mission of "telling the story of the Rudy we know."
"This is not only the race question, but a leadership, character question," Sharpton said. "Much of America knows Rudy Giuliani from 9/11. They need to know him from 9/10 . . . how he polarized the biggest city in the world and how he ran it like a fiefdom."
Sharpton asked, "In a time where we're fighting world terrorism and fighting those that are bent on making America appear like we're unreasonable and we're trying to be exploitative and oppressive, how do you put a man in the White House that clearly has a closed-door policy to anyone other than those that bow and agree with him?"
A Giuliani spokeswoman, Maria Comella, declined to respond.
Giuliani and the other leading Republican candidates turned down invitations to appear Thursday at an NAACP convention in Detroit, prompting criticism from Sharpton that GOPers have "written the black vote off."
Aides wouldn't say why Giuliani spurned the NAACP.
Doug Muzzio, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College, said there's no question Sharpton will aggressively work to "mobilize the black base on issues of race and try to turn them out in record numbers."
But Sharpton's strong opposition to Giuliani, Muzzio notes, could have the unintended consequence of drumming up support for the ex-mayor.
"Clearly, he's going to stimulate a reaction," Muzzio said. "The question is, does it help more than it hurts?"
Sharpton's criticism of the presidential field wasn't reserved just for Giuliani.
With polls showing Illinois Sen. Barack Obama tied or slightly behind fellow Democrat Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., with black voters, Sharpton said Obama must "ask himself why there hasn't been more traction."
Sharpton, who competed in Democratic primaries in 2004, said that although he hopes the nation will one day elect a black President, it's important that it not just be "symbolic."
"We've also seen first blacks in other areas, like secretary of state, that was disappointing," he said, referring to Colin Powell, who served President Bush. "It's still something that we dream of, but it's also something that we're cautious to make sure we get what we think we're getting."
If Democrats don't address issues important to black voters, there are alternatives, Sharpton warned.
"With the looming possibility of a (Mayor) Bloomberg candidacy, don't say you don't have anywhere to go, because if a Bloomberg runs, the Democrats have to be concerned about that," he said.
Sharpton said he will make an endorsement in the fall. And if the Republicans next year nominate Giuliani, he'll be ready.
"The problem with Giuliani is not that he's invincible, it's that he hasn't been hit," Sharpton said. "He's not had to answer questions of his judgment, his character, his divisiveness."