New York politicians are calling out the Rev. Al Sharpton and demanding he jettison his plan to the march across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Since National Review Online broke the story that the race-baiting rabble-rousers is not seeking a permit for the August 23 march, it’s becoming clear that Sharpton’s return to prominence is a major headache, for Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Chief William Bratton, and New Yorkers as a whole.
Staten Island politicians are especially angry at The Rev, with many calling for de Blasio — a leftwing ally of Sharpton who compiled his own civil-disobedience arrest record as a candidate — to take action. Sharpton is protesting the death of Eric Garner, a vendor of untaxed cigarettes who died shortly after being put in an apparent chokehold by New York police officers.
Republican Congressman Michael Grimm, whose 11th District encompasses all of Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, has taken the lead on the issue, releasing a statement on Wednesday, saying, “To close [Staten Island’s] only direct passage to the rest of the City on a summer travel weekend is a recipe for total disaster.” Both ends of the bridge lie within Grimm’s district.
Staten Island City Councilmen Steven Matteo and Vincent Ignizio demanded that the mayor force Sharpton’s Nation Action Network to move the march to a “safer, less disruptive place,” with Matteo tweeting that the march would “set a precedent” for the Verrazano Bridge to be closed for future marches.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino insisted that Governor Andrew Cuomo “deny Reverend Sharpton access” to the bridge. “Rev. Sharpton’s track record speaks for itself,” an Astorino spokeswoman said. “It would be extraordinarily ill advised to trust him with a bridge. The permit must be denied.”
None of these statements seemed to faze Sharpton, who announced yesterday that the march would begin at 1 p.m. and that he had not applied for a permit. Other members of the National Action Network still might try to get a permit for the march — which would have to shut down traffic on at least one level of the bridge because it has no pedestrian walkway.
After his secret meeting Wednesday morning, Sharpton announced the support of the powerful health care workers union 1199 SEIU, whose members plan to join the National Action Network in the march. In front of the union’s offices, Sharpton spoke out against the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, which held a press conference Tuesday decrying criticisms of the NYPD following Garner’s death. “They’re defending something illegal,” said Sharpton. “Can you imagine me holding a press conference defending an illegal act?”
Sharpton’s agitation has put the mayor in what both the left and right acknowledge is a tight spot. The New York Times conceded Thursday that de Blasio was “struggling to take command of a controversy over the police.” PBA head Patrick Lynch warned NYPD officers Tuesday that nobody at City Hall “is looking out for you.”
Both sides of the battle are itching for the mayor to choose a side, but he appears to be avoiding the subject. De Blasio was in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and has no question-and-answer session planned for Thursday, according to the Times.
— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.