Giuliani Attacks Sharpton As Unqualified to Be Mayor
Interjecting himself further into the Democratic mayoral runoff yesterday, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani said the Rev. Al Sharpton was unqualified to be mayor, challenged the Manhattan Borough President, Ruth W. Messinger, to do the same and prepared to release another television advertisement trumpeting his support among Democrats.
While trying to drive a wedge between the two remaining Democratic contenders and pin Ms. Messinger in a position of upsetting one Democratic constituency or another, the Mayor highlighted the discomfort some Democratic Party leaders have expressed toward Mr. Sharpton.
Speaking of Mr. Sharpton after an appearance at a Sunset Park, Brooklyn, firehouse, Mayor Giuliani said: ''I think he's unqualified to be mayor. I'm not afraid to say that. I think Ruth Messinger is afraid to say that.''
The Mayor said Mr. Sharpton lacked the experience needed for the job. ''There has to be a background of having worked,'' he said, ''having had a job, having distinguished yourself at things before you come to the position of being mayor.'' Otherwise, Mr. Giuliani added, ''Politics becomes a joke rather than a reality.''
Word of the Mayor's attack sent ripples throughout a campaign day otherwise filled with routine politicking by the two Democrats.
Ms. Messinger spent much of the day in Queens, attending a Democratic club breakfast at the Oakland Jewish Center and greeting voters at a Hispanic cultural parade in Jackson Heights. After receiving a rousing reception from more than 800 worshipers at a church in East New York, Brooklyn, Mr. Sharpton visited a social service center in the Bronx.
Ms. Messinger, who is generally considered the favorite in the Sept. 23 runoff after gaining a plurality in the first round of primary voting, said Mayor Giuliani's accusations were simply an attempt to divert attention from accusations that his aides had accepted more than $300,000 in illegal donations.
She refused to agree that Mr. Sharpton was unqualified to be mayor, and reiterated her position that she would support the winner of the Democratic primary.
But choosing her words carefully, she said, ''I have publicly disagreed with Al Sharpton in the debates on issues of policy.'' She added, ''I have never been afraid to say what it is I think, and I believe Rudy Giuliani knows that.''
Democratic campaign aides have said Ms. Messinger faces a challenge in distinguishing herself from Mr. Sharpton without alienating his base among black voters, a vital Democratic constituency that could prove important in the general election.
Hearing of Mayor Giuliani's attack while leaving St. Paul Community Baptist Church in East New York, Mr. Sharpton unleashed his own barrage against the Republican incumbent. ''Clearly the Mayor is trying to use code words, hoping to get a white backlash vote to stop me in the runoff,'' he said. ''The code word was qualifications. Everybody darker than Liz Taylor knows what that code word means.''
Mr. Sharpton also faulted the Mayor on the campaign finance issue and for soliciting support from departing Representative Floyd H. Flake, a Queens Democrat and black minister who Mr. Sharpton noted had been investigated but cleared several years ago by Federal investigators following reports suggesting he had embezzled money from a church-sponsored housing project. Mr. Flake is leaving Congress in October.
A second senior Queens Democrat, Alan G. Hevesi, the City Comptroller, was also drawn into the parrying between Mayor Giuliani and the two Democratic contenders yesterday.
Mayor Giuliani compared Mr. Hevesi's declaration that he could not support Mr. Sharpton in the general election with Ms. Messinger's pledge to support him if she loses the Sept. 23 vote.
''I respect what the Comptroller did yesterday because he's talking like a real person, not like a politician,'' the Mayor said. ''Ruth Messinger doesn't have the independence, I imagine, to say what she really thinks.''
The Giuliani campaign also prepared to release an advertisement today showing about 100 Democratic officials, lobbyists and employees under a huge sign that said ''Democrats for Giuliani,'' another indication of the Mayor's determination to snare the votes of Democrats unhappy with their own party's choices.
Photos: Campaigning for the Democratic mayoral nomination, the Rev. Al Sharpton, left (Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times), was endorsed by the entertainers James Brown, center, and Isaac Hayes in Central Park yesterday. Ruth W. Messinger, in photo at right (Steve Berman for The New York Times), met dancers from a Hispanic cultural parade in Jackson Heights, Queens.