WASHINGTON – The Rev. Al Sharpton joined the race for the Democrats' 2004 presidential nomination Tuesday, saying the party needed to expand its base of support.
"I think that the campaign that we are beginning to officially embark upon will change American politics," the civil rights leader said at a news conference after filing campaign papers at the Federal Election Commission.
Sharpton, 48, said he was the only candidate who was "anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-tax cut across the board." Sharpton said he would reach out to disaffected voters, including Latinos, blacks, gays and lesbians, and young people.
Sharpton, who has unsuccessfully run for New York mayor and the U.S. Senate, has been outspoken on many local and national issues, most notably on police brutality in the highly publicized cases of Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima.
He also served 90 days in a federal jail for protesting the U.S. military bombing on the tiny Puerto Rican island of Vieques.
Sharpton joins a crowded field of Democratic contenders, including Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts, John Edwards of North Carolina and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean.
Sharpton said he would use his comparative lack of campaign funds as a point in criticizing his rivals.
"We've got to stop the corporate mentality of politics and go back to the people," Sharpton said. "I think we've reduced America too much now to who has the dollars rather than who has the message."
The New York-based activist first came to national attention in 1987 as a spokesman for black teenager Tawana Brawley after she claimed she was raped by a gang of white men. A grand jury later concluded her story was a hoax.
Sharpton was later ordered in a lawsuit to pay $65,000 for slanderous comments he made about a prosecutor, but Tuesday brushed aside the suggestion the Brawley saga would hurt his chances.
"If that's all they got, I am proud ... I believe we were right, just like I was right on Central Park," he said, referring to his support for five men who were cleared late last year after serving prison sentences for the 1989 rape of the woman known as the Central Park Jogger.
Sharpton said he would not be a one-issue or one-group candidate.
"I have worked and struggled and paid a price for everybody," said Sharpton, before setting off for a round of traditional campaign appearances -- planned meetings with school principals and business leaders in Baltimore, then back to Washington in the evening for television appearances and an abortion rights event.
Asked about Sharpton's candidacy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said, "We have a wonderful system in America. There's 280 million people in America that can run."
Bloomberg, a Republican, described Sharpton as "charming and not reticent to say what he believes. He has a right to run and God bless him."