Posted: Jan. 31, 2004


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Alfred C. "Al" Sharpton kept the politics rolling by campaigning Saturday in Wilmington, continuing the candidate hopping and voter shopping with Delaware's Democratic presidential primary only three days away.

Picking up where John F. Kerry and Joseph I. Lieberman left off after their appearances here the day before, Sharpton put on a one-man political show for about 200 people at the Police Athletic League center on North Market Street in Wilmington.

It was Sharpton's third trip to campaign for votes in Delaware, where Democrats will go to the polls Tuesday along with voters in six other states. Delaware Republicans are skipping the primary because President George W. Bush is a lock for re-nomination.

Sharpton urged his listeners to defy the low expectations for his campaign and vote to get him some of the state's 23 delegates for the national nominating convention in July in Boston.

"I don't care if there's a blizzard Tuesday. You need to come out," Sharpton said. "One thing you know is, come hell or high water, I'm not dropping out of this race. We're not going to be sitting at the sidelines, hoping somebody mentions us."

The crowd was a blend, not all of it backing Sharpton. There were people like Rena Ruff, a Newark Democrat who is for him as "the voice of the minorities," but there were also Diane Clarke Streett, the New Castle County register of wills who likes Kerry, and New Castle residents Abra and Daniel Verinder, leading volunteers for Dennis J. Kucinich.

"Sharpton is kind of the second choice for both of us," Abra Verinder said. "I think that everyone at the very least wants Bush out."

Sharpton's rally also brought out a cluster of Howard B. Dean's volunteers in a scavenger hunt for votes. They made themselves conspicuous by holding up campaign signs outside the PAL center, and although Deaniac Steven Biener asserted they were proud of it, the tactic did not go over well with Wilmington Councilman Norman M. Oliver, the chief organizer for Sharpton.

"That's tasteless. It can really get contentious in a neighborhood like this," Oliver said. "I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't go to a Kerry rally with an Al Sharpton sign."

Sharpton spoke for about a half-hour about his campaign for jobs, housing, health care and getting guns off the streets. As usual, he was not just an occasional sound bite but an entire sound banquet.

Here he was on the economic recovery: "They are telling us that we are in recovery, but the only ones that are announcing the recovery are the ones who weren't ill."

He had this to say about Bush's education policy: "He proposes no child left behind. Then he leaves the budget behind, doesn't fund his own program."

He also concluded that Saddam Hussein's capture proved the premise for the Iraq war was wrong: "Any man with weapons of mass destruction wouldn't be hiding in a rat hole."

He warned his listeners that news coverage of his events almost always pointed out that the crowds were largely African-Americans: "All you whites will be honorary blacks in the news tonight."

Sharpton did not neglect the local scene. He noted there was a birthday party planned for state Rep. Hazel D. Plant, a leading backer who had her 70th birthday on Jan. 23. He promised her another party a year from now.

"Next Jan. 31, we're going to do that in the East Room of the White House," Sharpton said.