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CANDIDATES / AL SHARPTON
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UPDATE: Al Sharpton conceded defeat on March 15, 2004.

Name: Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr.
Birth date: October 3, 1954
Education: Tilden High School, Brooklyn, 1972; Brooklyn College (dropped out)
Career: Ordained minister, 1964-present; founder civil rights group National Action Network, 1991-present; candidate for U.S. Senate, 1992, 1994; candidate for New York mayor, 1997
Family: Wife, Kathy Lee Jordan; two daughters.
Quote: "I do believe the [Democratic] party has moved far to the right. I do believe that the party has a bunch of elephants running around in donkey clothes."
Fun Facts »  
Preacher ends another electoral bid

(CNN) -- Controversial, conversational and confrontational, the Rev. Alfred Charles Sharpton Jr. staged a colorful but ultimately unsuccessful 2004 presidential campaign on a platform of racial equality, education and health care rights.

The longtime activist ended his bid at the Democratic nomination on March 15, 2004, conceding defeat to Sen. John Kerry but pledging to continue campaigning for his "urban agenda."

The outcome was predictable, according to analysts who said Sharpton would have difficulty overcoming his political inexperience and limited appeal before becoming a top White House contender.

Sharpton's reputation would seem to work against any challenger for the presidency, said CNN political analyst William Schneider. "He's seen as divisive, contentious, confrontational," Schneider said, "all the things the Democrats don't really need."

Born in 1954 in New York City, Sharpton rose from boy-preacher to political activist -- founding his signature organization, the National Action Network -- in 1991. NAN raises money for inner city youth and fights drug abuse.

The son of a carpenter-contractor and a cleaning woman, Sharpton was raised in Brooklyn's Brownsville neighborhood.

First preaching at age 4 and ordained as a Pentecostal minister at age 10, Sharpton was leading his own youth movement by his teenage years. It was then he began rubbing shoulders with celebrities such as Jesse Jackson and singer James Brown.

At age 14, Jackson named Sharpton the youth director for Operation Breadbasket, a campaign to improve economic conditions in black neighborhoods. A few years later, Sharpton befriended Brown and in 1980 married one of Brown's backup singers -- Kathy Lee Jordan.

The lightning rod

The 1980s defined Sharpton's public persona, as he transformed from preacher to civil rights advocate to activist, making a name for himself as a spokesman for sometimes dubious causes.

"He's got this very checkered past where he has had problems with the law," said Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report. "He's defended people who -- it turned out -- were indefensible; he's just become a lightening rod for controversy. That, and the fact that he never held elective office disqualifies him as a serious candidate for president."

At a February 2003 speech in Washington, Sharpton joked about what others had been saying about his past. "They say, 'Well reverend, candidates like you have baggage,'" Sharpton said. "Well, everybody in politics has baggage. Just some folk have enough money when they check in a hotel to get others to carry their bags."

Sharpton led protests on numerous issues, including the 1985 Bernhard Goetz subway shootings of four black teenagers, the 1986 killing of a black man and the beating of another in Howard Beach, New York, and the 1989 murder of 16-year-old Yusuf Hawkins by a white mob in Brooklyn's Bensonhurst neighborhood.

Sharpton made national headlines in 1987 after he became an advocate for Tawana Brawley, a 15-year-old, black New Yorker who claimed six white police officers abducted and raped her.

A grand jury declared the story a hoax. Later, Sharpton had to pay $65,000 for defaming an assistant district attorney he accused of being involved in the alleged attack.

In 1989 Sharpton was charged with 67 counts of fraud, larceny and felony tax evasion in connection with the National Youth Movement, a group he founded in the 1970s. He was acquitted on all counts. In 1993 he pled guilty to a separate count of failing to file a New York state income tax return -- a misdemeanor.

In his first political campaign, the 1992 U.S. Senate primary in New York, Sharpton came in third of four Democrats, trailing former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro.

Two years later, he challenged widely respected three-term incumbent Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Democratic primary and lost. But he improved his tally, garnering 26 percent of the vote.

In 1997, Sharpton lost the New York City mayoral primary, but he did receive 32 percent of the vote, nearly forcing a runoff.

Although Sharpton failed in his three previous attempts to win election to public office, some analysts said he shouldn't be ignored.

"His strength is, he's very smart," Schneider said. "He's rarely foolish. He says what he thinks and he's very direct and that surprises a lot of people because they think of him as some kind of a rabble-rouser, which he can be. But I think he contributes to the debate, no question about it."

Rothenberg agreed that Sharpton "tells it like it is."

"He's probably the most entertaining speaker in the Democratic field," Rothenberg said. "He's terrific at beating up Bush and at rallying Democratic partisans to traditional Democratic issues."

'Elephants in donkey clothes'

Sharpton described himself as a true Democrat running an arms-wide-open campaign.

"I'm not running an African-American campaign," Sharpton told CNN's Bob Novak in January 2003. "We're running a broad-based campaign that includes African-Americans and Latinos and gays and lesbians and laborers and others."

Sharpton argued that Democrats and Republicans had become too similar on issues such as war, health care, business deregulation and taxes. It was his goal, he said, to step forward and sound the alarm.

"I believe the [Democratic] Party has moved far to the right," Sharpton told Novak. "I do believe that the Party has a bunch of elephants running around in donkey clothes."

Rothenberg said leaning left is Sharpton's Achilles heel. "His weakness is, he's regarded as so liberal. He's regarded as a kind of a carnival barker, somebody whose main goal is to sell you snake oil," Rothenberg said.

The Sharpton Top Ten, listed on his Web site, included support for a constitutional amendment that would declare education, health care and voting as basic human rights.

He also ran in support of affirmative action programs, anti-death penalty legislation and statehood voting rights for residents of Washington, D.C.

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