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Sharpton attacks ex-Fields aide

Would anyone expect anything less from the Rev.? Mercurio to go sailing.

Click below for articles from Newsday and the Sun.

Sharpton attacks ex-Fields aide
by Bryan Virasami
July 11, 2005

The Rev. Al Sharpton took jabs at a political consultant Sunday who was fired by mayoral candidate C. Virginia Fields over a doctored campaign photo.

During Sharpton's Sunday program on WLIB/1190 radio, he said it was unprofessional for Joseph Mercurio to criticize his former boss, the Manhattan borough president who is seeking the Democratic mayoral nomination.

"For someone to leave a campaign and then turn around and try to make all kinds of allegations and bordering on some very, very ugly language, I think a professional ought to be a professional," Sharpton said.

Fields fired Mercurio after admitting a photo in a flier was doctored to include two Asian-Americans who weren't supporters.

Mercurio told reporters Fields had seen the photo before it was released. Fields said Mercurio's version was wrong.

In response to Sharpton's comments, Mercurio called on Sharpton -- who has so far declined to pick a primary candidate -- to throw his support behind Fields. "I challenge him to endorse her," Mercurio said. "He knows she's the better candidate and he shouldn't put her through a lengthy checkout. He knows now she's the better candidate."

Sharpton's comments were made minutes before Fields went on the program but she didn't comment on the issue.

Endorse Fields, Fired Consultant Advises Sharpton
The New York Sun
July 11, 2005
by Jull Gardiner

A former top political consultant to one of the Democratic mayoral candidates, C.Virginia Fields, said yesterday that a prominent African-American activist, the Reverend Alford Sharpton, should step up and endorse Ms. Fields as she tries to bounce back from a recent flap over a doctored photo.

The consultant, Joseph Mercurio, who was fired Friday by Ms. Fields and then rebutted the campaign's assertion that he was ultimately responsible for the use of the photo, commented after Rev. Sharpton attacked him yesterday on his weekly radio show, which airs on WLIB-AM.

"If he thinks Virginia Fields is a good candidate, like I think Virginia Fields is a good candidate, he should get off it and finally endorse her," Mr. Mercurio told The New York Sun during a phone interview. "He's been talking about it for weeks. He should do it and help the borough president out when she needs it."

Rev. Sharpton's possible endorsement has been the object of speculation for months, but he has hedged so far and said he may not endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary at all. In the 2001 primary, Rev. Sharpton endorsed one of the Democratic candidates, Fernando Ferrer, who is the front-runner in the field of four contenders for the party's nomination to challenge Mayor Bloomberg this fall. Mr. Ferrer, who is Hispanic, hurt his chances of winning black votes, and Rev. Sharpton's backing, this year when he said in March that the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, was not a crime.

In his comments about the Fields flap yesterday, Rev. Sharpton said it was "unethical" and "outright questionable" for a consultant to break confidence and attack a candidate after making money off the campaign.A candidate, he said, has the right to take action when something isn't handled properly, but an adviser should not publicly gripe and damage the campaign.

"I ran for mayor--I mean, this is no joke," Rev. Sharpton said moments before Ms. Fields joined him on the air for an interview. He ran in the Democratic primary in 1997, when Ms. Fields's predecessor as borough president of Manhattan, Ruth Messinger, was the nominee.

"There are a million things that come across your desk a day," Rev. Sharpton continued. "That's why you hire people to handle it. And when it is not handled in the way you want, you have the right to take action.They don't have a right to come back and try to slam-dunk you after stuffing their pockets at your expense."

Mr. Mercurio, a longtime consultant whose company, National Political Services, was paid roughly $145,000 by the campaign through April, said he was the lone voice of opposition to printing the flier that included the doctored photo. Others in the campaign, including the manager, Chung Seto, pushed for it, and Ms. Fields had seen various iterations of the flier and did not object, he said.

"I simply corrected the record," Mr. Mercurio said. "The amount of money you are paid does not lessen your requirement to be honorable, maintain your integrity, and to tell the truth."

Rev. Sharpton, who did not mention Mr. Mercurio by name yesterday, took other digs at him, saying female candidates such as Ms. Fields, the only woman running, cannot be judged by a different standard. And he challenged the consultant, at least in jest, to a fight.

"If he likes to fight, he wants to fight, he can come fight me, 'cause I think that this is unethical," Rev. Sharpton said.

The photo that ignited the controversy featured Ms. Fields at a news conference in the center of an ethnically diverse group. It proved to be a composite of several different images, among them a stock image of two Asian-Americans, whom Ms. Fields did not know, and pictures of people who are not supporting her bid for mayor.

The Fields campaign held a news conference Wednesday in an attempt to control the damage and presumably to put the issue to rest, but that seemed only to fan the flames and raise more questions.

Forty-eight hours later an unexpected round of mudslinging, between the sides had started, with Mr. Mercurio and the Fields camp each blaming the other for not flagging the photo before it was printed and distributed as part of a flier.

Mr. Mercurio said that he spoke to Ms. Fields by phone Friday while she was in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., for a fund-raising event and that she told him it was "appropriate" for him to correct the record publicly if he needed to. The way he tells it, he said he would speak well of her. Aside from the matter of the photo, he has done so.

The Fields campaign has stopped commenting on the matter and canceled a news conference yesterday. A spokeswoman for Ms. Fields, Kirsten Powers, would comment only on the possibility of a Sharpton endorsement.

"Al Sharpton will make his decision when he wants to make it," Ms. Powers said. "There was never any expectation that he was going to make an endorsement on the radio show this morning."

A spokeswoman for Rev. Sharpton did not return a call. The minister, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, said he had not talked to Ms. Fields about the incident and indicated he would have had the same reaction had it happened in another campaign.

Mr. Mercurio, now that he is not working on the mayoral campaign, said he plans to spend his summer sailing.