NEW YORK – Democratic presidential candidate Al Sharpton (search) left the campaign trail to honor Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, but he did not abandon politics, lashing out at Howard Dean (search) and endorsing a local mayoral contender.
After campaigning in South Carolina Monday morning, Sharpton returned to New York City to speak at the annual National Action Network (search) gathering that honors the slain civil rights leader, who would have turned 75 last week.
Sharpton's remarks quickly turned to Dean, whom he criticized in a recent debate among Democratic presidential contenders for failing to appoint a black or Hispanic to his Cabinet during 12 years as governor of Vermont.
"Dean's the one who says he wants to teach us race, but he has no experience with us, never lived with us. How's he going to teach us?" Sharpton said to an animated crowd of several hundred supporters. "If he hadn't have brought it up, I wouldn't have asked him. But don't talk to me like I'm stupid."
Sharpton also endorsed Charles Barron, a city councilman who announced his plans earlier Monday to challenge Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, in 2005. Barron is the only Democrat to officially enter the race.
Several other Democrats are expected to run against the mayor, and have already raised millions to face the billionaire incumbent.
"I'm going to be there for you, because you've been there for us," Sharpton told Barron, who attended the National Action Network event in Harlem.
The mayor had stopped by the gathering, but left before the Barron endorsement. During his remarks, Bloomberg told the crowd that education was a civil right, and that he would send police officers to every classroom if that was necessary to guarantee a peaceful learning environment. They politely applauded.
Barron, on his first day as an official mayoral candidate, wasted no time in setting himself apart from his opponent.
"I know you all gave the mayor a handclap about those policemen in the schools, but let me tell you something: we don't need no police officers in our schools," Barron said to loud cheers. "We don't need our schools to be turned into prisons."
Schools need more money, he said, for better science facilities and after-hours programs.
Barron, who is black, also said more minorities should be in positions of power.
"I'm not trying to divide the races in New York City. ... I'm trying to correct that," he said. "We have to change the power structure. If we do that, then the budget priorities change."
Barron, a former Black Panther, was elected in 2001 and represents parts of Brooklyn.