'Shop Talk': David Paterson On Political Life Support

Host Michel Martin speaks with freelance writer Jimi Izrael, CNN.com and San Diego Union Tribune syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, author and public policy professor Michael Fauntroy, and NPR Political Editor Ken Rudin in this week’s Barbershop segment. They discuss embattled New York Governor David Paterson, the controversy between civil rights activist Al Sharpton and talk show host Tavis Smiley over whether President Obama should have a black agenda, and the NAACP’s nomination of the Michael Jackson Memorial Service for its Image Award.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

More politics: It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, author and professor of public policy at George Mason University, Michael Fauntroy, and NPR's Political Editor Ken Rudin. Take it away, Jimi.

No Jimi? Okay, well, I'll take it away Jimi, and Jimi, whenever you come out from under the clippers, you can jump right in. The big news today, I think in the political world, even though this is New York-based, I think it has repercussions because for both for the politics of it and for the metaphor of it is New York Governor David Paterson, he's under fire.

He's been criticized in The New York Times for a couple of days now about his relationship with a top aide. People - first, they questioned his qualifications. And then the question was: How did he respond to some very serious allegations of domestic abuse that his aide was accused of, and then the governor's behavior in the course of that has come under fire because it's been - he has admitted that he called the complaining woman and it's not clear why he called her.

So, now, the question is Ken, is he going to step down, or should he step down? Is anyone calling for him to step down? What happens?

KEN RUDIN: Well, first of all, almost every Democrat in sight, especially in New York, is saying that he has got to announce that he's not going to seek full election in the fall. Of course, he was never elected. He became governor when previous governor, Eliot Spitzer, was involved in his own scandal. Anyway, the White House from day one said David Paterson cannot win in November. They want him not to run. But more and more Democrats are nervous about David Paterson on top of the ticket.

David Paterson will announce some time Friday, by all likelihood, that he's not going to run for a full term. The real question is whether he should resign. There seems to be extreme inappropriate attempts by either the governor's office, by members of his administration, or by the state police - the head of the state police appointed by David Paterson to visit this woman who was violently assaulted by David Johnson, who's a 37-year-old top aide to Governor Paterson.

Now, ironically the same thing with Eliot Spitzer, who fought against prostitution then gets caught in a prostitution ring, the Paterson administration from day one has been very strong on domestic violence cases. This is one of the most important things for the administration and here you have a top aide who just, you know, chokes and beats, and really harms this woman. And then she goes to the state courts for protection and then she gets a call from the governor the day before the last hearing. He gets visits from the state police to say, perhaps, maybe you shouldn't go through this. It's obviously inappropriate involvement by the administration.

MARTIN: And I want to mention that the governor was actually scheduled to speak with us today. And he confirmed that - his office confirmed that he would be speaking with us as recently as yesterday morning. And then, of course, later in the afternoon, he canceled. And so we certainly do hope at some point, he'll come and speak with us. And he did give a press conference last night. I just want to play a short clip where he said that he was very clearly trying to figure out, you know, what to do. And I'll just play a short clip to see if you can sort of hear how he sounded last night. Here it is.

Governor DAVID PATERSON (Democrat, New York): I'm not suspending my campaign but I am talking to a number of elected officials around the state, as I would, fellow Democrats, to hear their opinions. I'm obviously listening to them. You know, I've got an open mind about this thing. I want the Democrats to win in November. I want the governor of the state of New York to be Democratic, hopefully me. You know, I will weigh what they have to say, but right now I'm a candidate for governor.

MARTIN: You know, Ken, I do want to mention that we've talked about this on the program before and you have been of the mind that he was never really going to run, that he was just - he didn't want to give away - he wanted to stay he wanted to run because he didn't want to trade away with what little sort of political authority he has left by becoming an instant lame duck.

RUDIN: Right. I mean, he has a serious budget negotiation with the state legislature that he had to go through. And the feeling was that once those negotiations were over, once there was a budget in place, if it was in place, he would say either I'm not running or I'm going to step down or whatever. But the thing is the most interesting thing to me in this whole thing is that he asked the state attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, to investigate his behavior. Now, Andrew Cuomo, by all likelihood...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: ...is waiting for, you know, David Paterson to either sit down - step down or drop dead or get kicked out of the state because it's clear that Cuomo has been running for governor.

MARTIN: That is why politics in New York is not for amateurs. So Jimi's with us now. HI, Jimi. Jimi, are you with us now? We're still having some problems hearing you, I'm sorry. So, Ruben, what do you make of all this? I mean, here you're kind of a tough on everybody person. What do you make of all this?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, right. I think I'm going to be tough on the New York...

MARTIN: Ruben, can you hear...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Yeah, I'm going to be tough on the New York Times. I think that the and, you know, in general, here's the thing. We've got to look at this in the big picture. I don't believe for a minute that Governor Paterson sort of never intended to run. I think he did intend to run. I think he wanted - the natural impulse for a politician who is the incumbent governor of New York is to run for re-election. And I think those plans were derailed ultimately by his own alleged stupid behavior; I mean, completely, as Ken said, inappropriate behavior is alleged here.

The fact that not just with the governor, seemed to be applying pressure to this woman, this victim of domestic violence, but having state police officers with badges and guns visit the woman to apply a different kind of pressure as well. That is just completely beyond the pale. That is completely unacceptable. That's what cooked his goose in a long run if all this is true. But having said that, I said from the beginning there are folks in New York who always wanted Andrew Cuomo to be governor, never wanted Paterson there.

They saw him as an illegitimate error who was only there because of what happened to Eliot Spitzer. And the New York Times and others have been leading this crusade to get him out. And we need to be able to say that. If this were Fox News, we'd have no trouble saying it. The fact that the New York Times is the pillar of the liberal media establishment, to my mind doesn't insulate it from criticism for its almost vindictive pursuit of Governor Paterson.

MARTIN: Michael Fauntroy, what do you think of this? What do you make of that?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, it's equally sad but it's also politically pathetic. I mean, it turns out that Governor Paterson is no longer politically viable and given what's going on with the state police, no longer ethically viable as governor. You know, a lot of us lost our minds during the 2000 campaign when it turned out that Sarah Palin had been accused of having some inappropriate contact with the state police regarding her sister in a divorce case.

So you know, it just seems to me that what we have here is someone who sort of fell into the job, was never really well suited for it. And all of this sort of fountain of incompetence has sort of sprayed out all over the state. And now there's a big mess. And unfortunately, I'm not certain Andrew Cuomo could save it if it is true that Governor Paterson will step out of the race.

MARTIN: What do you make of his comments earlier on the CNN program Larry King? And before he was starting his pushback before the pieces were even published, where he said, well, this is enough to racialize me and sexualize me. And he really did put it in kind of racial context, that he was being attacked in part not just because he's the governor, the highest ranking - or a Democrat - but because he is an African-American. He's the first African-American governor of the state of New York.

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, you know, Michel, there may well be something too that, but the reality is, that does not sort of overcome all of this other thing all this other stuff that's going on.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Right.

Prof. FAUNTROY: And for that reason, you know, it sort of rings hollow, though it may well be true.

MARTIN: Well, if you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barbershop. We're speaking with Michael Fauntroy, Ken Rudin, Ruben Navarrette. And hopefully Jimi is back with us. Jimi, are you there?

Mr. IZRAEL: I'm here.

MARTIN: There you are. Where you been? So busy getting your shape-up. You didn't have time for - you didn't have time for us. So, Jimi, I wanted to ask you about and try to contain yourself - one of your favorite people, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: And one of your other favorite people, Tavis Smiley...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...the talk show host who got into this heated debate over, you know, and the reason, I think one of the reasons we're interested in this is that the question for David Paterson is, he is not he's the first black governor. He is the governor of New York, a very important state, a political important figure in his own right, but he is also an African-American governor. And is there some sort of broader swirl around that? And it leads to this debate that they had over whether President Obama has a specific responsibility to address the specific concerns of African-Americans. Jimi, you want to talk more about that?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, for me that's kind of troubling. You know, and this you know what? I'm going to get in a lot of trouble because everybody knows I'm down I'm down on the Reverend Al sometime. But I think this maybe one of the Ruben, hold still.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Uh-oh.

Mr. IZRAEL: I think this maybe one of the cases where Al Sharpton is dangerous when he is on message and he is on message. You know, Tavis...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I fell off my chair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Tavis, this looks like his ego has gotten the best of him. He wants to he wants to be king of all blacks desperately. You know, in my opinion, you know, I think he is trying to by suggesting that other black leaders set the agenda, he is kind of he is trying to be the vanguard at that. And I think that's a problem.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break because - I'm going to play a little bit of this after we take our break, just so that everybody who hasn't followed this knows what we're talking about. But before we do, Michael Fauntroy, I wanted to ask your assessment of this. Is this kind of just egoism as its finest or is this a kind of political maturity that people prominent African-Americans can feel free to disagree publicly?

Prof. FAUNTROY: Well, it's unfortunate. You know, Tavis is a friend of mine and I'll say it to others, that I think in this case he may have used an Uzi when a pistol may have been a more appropriate weapon because...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. FAUNTROY: ...he sort of sprayed a whole bunch of people that I don't think he necessarily needed to. I think they're legitimate questions with regard to Sharpton. I'm fine with people debating things publicly. I'm not fine with some of the sort of personalizing of it that I think is beginning to happen. And unfortunately, it looks like this is the start of something new.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break. But when we come back, we'll have more on this with public policy Professor Michael Fauntroy, journalists, Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette and Ken Rudin. We'll tell you a little bit more about what we're talking about. We'll actually play some of the exchange so you could decide for yourself whether do you think this matters or not.

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Please stay with us.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Olympic speed skater Shani Davis is the first African-American to win an individual medal at a winter Olympic games. We'll talk about sport and race in a few minutes.

Bur first, we want to continue our conversation with our Barbershop guys. We're visiting with public policy Professor Michael Fauntroy, journalists, Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Ken Rudin. And Jimi, before we go to you, I wanted to play that clip that I had mentioned before the break. We had been talking about this beef between Reverend Al Sharpton and the talk show host Tavis Smiley.

And they got into a conversation about whether President Obama has a responsibility to set a national agenda specifically for African-Americans. And I just want to play a short clip. What happened first is that Tavis called into "The Tom Joyner Show and said - which is, of course, a popular nationally syndicated program, and said that...

Mr. NAVARRETTE: It was a commentary.

MARTIN: It was a commentary, but he said he's convening a gathering of black thought leaders to talk about this. And he criticized Al Sharpton for having a meeting with the president where he says they didn't specifically press hard enough, and here's that clip.

(Soundbite of show)

Reverend AL SHARPTON: (Civil Rights Leader) Is that Tavis Smiley?

Mr. TAVIS SMILEY (Host, The Tavis Smiley Show): Reverend, how are you, sir?

Rev. SHARPTON: I was fine until you started messing with me this morning. What's wrong with you?

Mr. SMILEY: Oh. Nothing's wrong with me, and I'm not messing with you or Brother Ogletree. What I said this morning was whether or not there needs to be a black agenda. And when there are certain African-American leaders, including, respectfully and lovingly, as I said this morning, the two on this phone right now, who are quoted in The New York Times and other places coming out of meetings in the White House suggesting we don't need to have this president focused on an African-American agenda, given that black folk are getting crushed, I think there's a disconnect between those kinds of quotes and black people.

MARTIN: And then later on this debate carried on in another program and here's Reverend Al's response a little bit later. Here it is.

(Soundbite of show)

Rev. SHARPTON: Saying the president shouldn't value a black agenda is not saying the president should not be held to a black agenda or deal with a black agenda. And that is not what you said. Don't talk to us like we're stupid, Tavis. Hold on a minute. We're going to take a break and I'm going to let you say whatever you want to say. But if you want to deal with truth, let's deal with truth, lovingly. But don't love me and distort me. Keeping it real. Sharpton, that's my name. I'll be right back.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He did let him respond. (Unintelligible) he didn't just like use the mike and cut him off, but he did let him respond.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I've got to get in.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Ruben.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I've got to get in. Listen, I've known Tavis for 17 years. Obviously, he and I once hosted a radio show together in Los Angeles when we were kids. And I'll tell you what. And I have always there have been times where I've disagreed with him, times where I've done so in public and in print. In this case, it is just wrong, I think, to make this about Tavis' ego. First of all, if you listen in that clip, you know anything about Reverend Al, this is not one humble brother we're talking about with Al Sharpton. He's got his own (unintelligible) to deal with. You know, Al Sharpton looks in the mirror and thinks it's Denzel Washington looking back. It's the way it is.

So there is a lot there with egos on all parties and all of the players in this drama. But there is a big question here, and what really set Tavis off was a story in early February in the New York Times that talked about Obama's nuanced approach to race. And in it they made reference to Al Sharpton, Ogletree, Charles Ogletree at Harvard, and others, basically giving the president a pass and saying that they wouldn't hold him to the same sort of standard they might hold a white president to. And Tavis brings up a very important point.

He says: how can we give President Obama a pass and then down the line when we have another white president, as I think we're all sure we will at some point, then come back and resurrect the moral authority to press him on our issues? This is a really important debate. Tavis' point is very well taken. I think a lot of the criticism you hear from Reverend Al was based on jealousy and envy, where I think Sharpton gave that away when he talked about people who go out and sell books. I mean, Tavis Smiley has a bigger microphone than Al Sharpton and it bugs the hell out of him.

MARTIN: Okay. All right, Jimi, what about you?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, there's a couple of problems...

MARTIN: 'Cause I'm not sure it's about ego, it's about tactics. Is it really about that they disagree on the substance or that they just agreed tactically about what is the best approach here? But Jimi, what do you think?

Mr. IZRAEL: I think it's tactics. I do. I think Reverend Al Sharpton, what he's saying to Tavis is look, you know, this is the president of America, not a president of black America. Let him get in and do his thing. And what's good for America is good for black people too, right? Right, Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Well, no. No. Let me say no, because...

Mr. IZRAEL: No, okay, all right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NAVARRETTE: I'm going to say no, because typically I'd say the same thing about Latinos. We typically have talked about things like Latino education and black education and black home ownership.

Mr. IZRAEL: Mm-hmm.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: When we have a white president, we don't have a problem setting out a black agenda, you know, in saying that if you fix the educational system in this country, a high tide lifts all boats, to use a Tavis Smiley phrase, and all of a sudden black folks are going to come along for the ride. That has not been good enough when we've had a white president. The thing that black people are struggling with is the paradox of having a black president who does not advocate specifically for black folks, and they don't how to deal with it.

MARTIN: And, Michael, what do you think?

Prof. FAUNTROY: I was just wanted to say...

MARTIN: You wrote about this, actually.

Prof. FAUNTROY: Yeah. I actually I think that that this is part of the real problem here. We are ignoring the larger question that Tavis is raising, and that is whether or not the president should pay attention to black issues. I think the answer to that question is yes, because special problems require special solutions. In Milwaukee, in 2008 and 2009, the black male unemployment rate was about 50 percent. In Washington, D.C., in late 2009, black men - black males between 16 and 24 were unemployed at about 35 percent. You know, that's way beyond the 10 percent that everybody's jumping up and down about right now, and it won't be reduced by simply focusing on everybody.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Prof. FAUNTROY: And so I just think that Sharpton and those who take that position need to know that that a rising tide is not going to lift every boat the way they think.

MARTIN: I'm going to go Ken on this, but I just want to point out: Reverend Sharpton actually just called us to tell us - to give his perspective - we don't have the - we just don't have the ability to kind of just put him into our conversation.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's everywhere. That brother's everywhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That said, he called to say...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. IZRAEL: Somebody already heard his name.

MARTIN: ...that the president invited - that his - the meeting that he had with the president, he was invited not as Al Sharpton, individual, but as a representative of a group, as were the other people, that Marc Morial was invited, the president of the Urban League. He's invited - the National Council of Negro Women leader, Dorothy Height, was invited. She wasn't able to come because of the weather. And he - his group - and he - the president asked each group about their agenda. He says - and so Reverend Al says: What is that, if not a black agenda? And he just said, for the record, he does think this is about ego. I don't know. Ken, what do you think? (unintelligible) Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Well, first of all, I thought that the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

RUDIN: I thought Ruben's argument was excellent. I think he articulated better than I ever heard it. I think ego, yes, is involved here. And sure, it's easy to say that, well, President Obama is the president of everybody and his policies will raise up everybody, including African-Americans. I could see the argument clearly, though, that some kind of a signal - at least where - maybe a kind of a policy, or a major aide, somebody should say that, look. We are - we know what we're doing, and this is exactly where we're focusing. But I could see at the same time where Obama's, you know, the argument that Obama should directly - direct his appeal to African-Americans would probably, you know, (unintelligible) the administration.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. There's probably a catch-22 in there.

MARTIN: Well, that's a question. That's the question. I think, Ken Rudin, that's the only legitimate - go ahead, Jimi. I think you're going to make the same point, that the...

Mr. IZRAEL: Yeah. It's a catch-22.

MARTIN: ...argument here is not - it's a - tactically, it's more difficult for an African-American president to appear to be...

RUDIN: Of course.

MARTIN: ...highlighting the concerns...

RUDIN: Of course.

MARTIN: ...of African-Americans. And so it just makes more sense politically -that's, I think, the argument of Reverend Al Sharpton.

RUDIN: But it could be Nixon going to China. If Nixon could go to China, perhaps Obama could do that kind of outreach.

MARTIN: It's - but China - is China African-Americans?

RUDIN: It was back in the '70s.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, Jimi, go ahead.

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, good to know, good to know.

MARTIN: Yeah, it is good to know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Jimi, before I let you go, since you're our culture vulture here..

Mr. IZRAEL: Oy, oy.

RUDIN: Oy.

MARTIN: ...the NAACP Image Awards is tonight.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yes.

MARTIN: And some people have raised the question over some of the year's nominees. The Image Awards is giving an honor to Van Jones, for - he was fired, famously, or pushed out by the Obama administration because of some intemperate bad judgment in signing a petition that got the attention of the conservative, you know, punditocracy. And then there's this Michael Jackson memorial service, which is then being - up for an award for outstanding variety - it's the Michael Jackson's funeral. I don't know. What you think about that?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: Tacky.

MARTIN: Really?

Mr. IZRAEL: Well, why are we giving out of words for funerals now? What's up with that? You know, next thing you know, we're going to have somebody trying to outdo him, you know, try to outdo Michael. You know, and that's - it's ugly.

MARTIN: It's not a good look, as you would say.

RUDIN: Right.

MARTIN: All right, I'm sorry. We have to let it go for now. Thanks, everybody. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist for TheRoot.com and author of the book "The Denzel Principle." He joined us from WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist who writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and CNN.com. He joined us form San Diego. Michael Fauntroy is a professor of public policy at George Mason University and the author of "Republicans and the Black Vote." He was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio, along with Ken Rudin, NPR's political editor, our Political Junkie. I thank everybody so much for joining us.

Mr. IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.