Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters Tuesday night that he will endorse a candidate for mayor two weeks before the June 22nd primary, adding his pick will be someone he believes can lift the city out of turmoil.
“I think the city’s in serious trouble after this pandemic. But I want to hear the best plan to bring it back,” Sharpton, the civil rights leader and president of the National Action Network, said.
The endorsement would mark the first time Sharpton would back an open primary candidate for some time, having remained neutral during the 2013 race when Mayor Bill de Blasio won office. His endorsement can provide significant backing, including from the Black community.
Sharpton made the comments shortly after a three-hour mayoral forum at NAN’s Harlem headquarters, where he interviewed each of the candidates for around 20 minutes each. While seven of the top-tier candidates were in attendance, Dianne Morales was a no-show as news broke of problems within her campaign.
While the forum touched on strategies to improve housing, education, healthcare, and business across Black communities, the main focal point was police reform. That discussion was made even more relevant as it was the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“What it means to me as a civil rights lawyer, as a mother, as the daughter of civil rights activists is we ain’t done, we’re not through, we got to fight, we got to throw down,” Maya Wiley, a mayoral candidate, said when asked what the Floyd anniversary meant to her.
The discussion of how to best reform the police department comes as the city experiences a surge in violent crime, with shootings in the street and assaults on the subway increasing so far this year. It’s raised the profiles of both Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and entrepreneur Andrew Yang, who’ve both taken a tougher stance on crime than their rivals.
“When I talk to New Yorkers, the number one concern is public safety, and we just saw a weekend where 26 people were shot, primarily in Black and brown neighborhoods,” Yang said. “So we need a police force that is evolving in the 21st century so that Black New Yorkers don’t fear for their well-being when they encounter an officer, but we also have to start bringing down this gun violence that’s taking too many lives and many New Yorkers afraid to walk the streets of their own neighborhood.”
Candidates were also asked if they would commit to hiring a police commissioner of color, in hopes it would reduce the animus between police and the communities they serve.
“I’m not going to commit to a specific person, because I do think we need a nationwide search. Because we got to get this right, and we got to get it right through my plan,” answered current city Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Adams, a retired NYPD captain, also supports hiring a person of color, though with caveats — “You got to get the right person,” Adams said. “It’s not just about skin pigmentation. I’m not just doing a paper bag check, and say, ‘okay, let me see your skin tone.’ No, I need to see your resume.”
Adams added he wants to understand the depths of one’s lived experience before they run the largest police department in the country.
“I don’t want to know about your ability just to fight crime. Tell me your personal story. Who are you,” Adams said, drawing applause.
Wiley, along with former housing commissioner Shaun Donovan, former Wall Street financier Ray McGuire, former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, said they’d unequivocally commit to hiring a person of color to run the NYPD.
Yang and Wiley also said they would appoint a civilian commissioner from outside the police department.
When it came to discussing whether stop and frisk would be a part of their strategy, most candidates generally agreed it was not the most effective tool. Adams, however, said the tool would be appropriately used, allowing officers to question but not frisk without a solid reason. They also would want the mayor’s office to be given greater control over immediately firing police officers accused of wrongdoing. Garcia hedged, saying, “At the end of the day, I don’t want it to get to my desk. I want to have confidence that the police commissioner and the chiefs are getting it done before I even need to hear about it.”
The candidates also tied a reduced crime rate to creating economic prosperity, with Donovan committing to reallocating $3 billion from the NYPD’s budget to put towards neighborhood improvement and “to fundamentally break the cycle of hopelessness and violence.”
The primary is scheduled for June 22nd, with early voting starting June 12th. Sharpton, a prominent figure in New York City politics, has made endorsements over the years, but not always to a candidate’s success. In 2009, he endorsed former city comptroller Bill Thompson for mayor over incumbent Michael Bloomberg. Thompson would ultimately lose the primary. In 2013, the last year of an open primary, Sharpton did not endorse anyone despite hinting he would.
While Sharpton was tight-lipped over who might be his choice, he did say some candidates left a different impression on him after the lengthy forum.
“Some of them did, but I won’t say which one,” he said.