BY BILL ARTH
BROOKLYN - "Working class outrage at and resistance to the horrific torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima at the hands of New York City cops led to this upset in the Democratic Party primary," said Olga Rodríguez, the Socialist Workers Party candidate for mayor of New York. Rodríguez's statement followed news that there would be a run off between Democratic Party challengers Ruth Messinger, currently the Manhattan borough president, and Rev. Alfred Sharpton.
Messinger, the favorite, failed to win the necessary 40 percent to be named the Democratic Party candidate against Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The runoff itself was then thrown into question when the New York Board of Elections announced that it discovered additional votes for Messinger that could put her above the 40 percent threshold.
Political writers in the big-business press were stunned when Sharpton forced the runoff by gaining 126,799 votes, 32 percent of the total, compared to Messinger's 155,913, or 39 percent. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert declared, "Reasonable people are shaking their heads at the idea that the Democratic nomination for mayor of New York should come down to a race between Ms. Messinger and Mr. Sharpton. Not that long ago it would have been easier to believe that a delegation from Pluto had landed in Sheepshead Bay."
Messinger, supported by most of the Democratic Party machine, had raised $3,262,568 for her campaign as of early September. Sharpton had raised only $185,000. In the weeks leading up to the primary, however, Sharpton closely identified himself with the protests against the torture of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant who lives in Brooklyn, by the New York police. Sharpton attended protests and appeared with lawyers for the Louima family demanding that the cops who tortured Louima be fired and prosecuted.
The Louima incident sparked widespread outrage and resistance among working people in New York. Two demonstrations were held, including marches on August 16 of 7,000 to the 70th Precinct, where the torture occurred, and on August 29 of 15,000 across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall in downtown Manhattan.
The mobilizations have inspired others to come forward with complaints of cop abuse. Another Haitian immigrant filed a brutality complaint and lawsuit against Justin Volpe, one of the cops accused of torturing Louima. Mario Saccavino, a 70-year-old man, has also filed suit against other cops from the 70th Precinct who knocked him down while arresting his wife. His hip was seriously injured, requiring surgery.
Sharpton defeated Messinger in Brooklyn by 13,000 votes. After the primary, Sharpton held a rally in Harlem with Rev. Jesse Jackson that attracted 450 people. Also attending were members of the families of Anthony Baez and Anthony Rosario, both of whom were killed by the New York cops. Their families have been active in protesting police brutality and had earlier endorsed Sharpton. A long-time Democratic politician, he devoted much of his remarks to denouncing Guiliani.
In an interview in Our Time Press, a Brooklyn community newspaper, Sharpton spelled out his program to fight police brutality. "One, we need to have an INDEPENDENT Civilian Complaint Review Board that has independent power, and can recommend termination and suspension. Second, we need to require all police to live in the city of New York. Third, we should have no 48 hour rule, where police are given 48 hours to decide whether or not they're going to talk, or answer questions." Sharpton continued, "I think [former Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly was a good Police Commissioner. He had the perfect balance of how to keep crime down. We started the downward spiral of crime and at the same time worked with community groups under his leadership."
On September 18, the Board of Elections announced that new vote tallies, together with absentee ballots, brought Messinger's total to 40.16 percent of the vote. If those results are ratified, the runoff will not take place. Sharpton announced he will file suit seeking an injunction ordering the new vote to take place.
Socialist Workers candidate Rodríguez assailed the move to cancel the September 23 runoff in the Democratic Party primary as "an undemocratic attack on the rights of those who cast their vote for Sharpton as a way to say `Enough!' to police brutality in this city." Rodríguez continued, "Neither Alfred Sharpton nor Ruth Messinger are putting forward a program that confronts the economic and social crisis facing working people in this election. Indeed, both Democratic Party candidates are campaigning to channel workers desire to fight back into the safe waters of capitalist electoral politics through support to the Democratic Party, whether it's health-care workers and UPS strikers demanding a decent contract or the powerful street mobilizations of Black, Caribbean, and other workers and youth to the brutal torture of Louima."
Bill Arth is a member of the United Transportation
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