NEW YORK (AP) — Rev. Al Sharpton abruptly canceled a Saturday rally where Rep. Charles Rangel and his chief rival were to pledge unity after a bitter primary campaign.
Sharpton said he called the event off over worries his message would be undercut by a rapid succession of developments since Tuesday's primary, including a new campaign for the runner-up, State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, and the guilty plea of a local state assemblywoman accused of lying to federal authorities.
"Tomorrow was not the time or the place," Sharpton told The Associated Press on Friday.
Sharpton said he spoke at length with Rangel on Friday and would hold individual unity events with him and Espaillat over the next few weeks.
He said he would rally Saturday with New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who this week approved the city's $40 million settlement with five men wrongly convicted in a brutal 1989 attack on a Central Park jogger.
Sharpton's decision Friday removed a chance for closure after a campaign that became increasingly nasty as the candidates sparred over the shifting racial terrain in the Upper Manhattan and Bronx district.
Sharpton said he made the decision after seeing Espaillat quickly announce his run for re-election to the state Senate, former New York City councilman Robert Jackson's emergence as a challenger for that office, and Assemblywoman Gabriela Rosa's guilty plea Friday to charges she obtained citizenship through a sham marriage and lied to bankruptcy authorities to erase $30,000 of debt.
"The climate I was seeking could be undercut," Sharpton said. "The focus had shifted and it could have been a stage not for unity."
Espaillat conceded Thursday, a day after The Associated Press declared Rangel the winner.
Rangel led Espaillat by fewer than 2,000 votes, with 100 percent of the vote counted in unofficial results. The city said the number of uncounted absentee and provisional ballots was not sufficient for Espaillat to make up the difference.
The 84-year-old Democrat has said the next term, his 23rd, will be his last. He is expected to easily win the general election in his heavily Democratic district.
Sharpton, stressing his message of cooperation and cohesion, said future elections will not be decided by "blacks vs. Latinos and Latinos vs. blacks."
"This was a close election," he said. "It's not like Espaillat and others are not going to still be players."
Despite the rancor and close finish, Rangel and the 59-year-old Espaillat agreed to attend the rally and were expected to say they would work together to serve the community.
Spokeswomen for both men said Friday they were unaware of the cancellation prior to Sharpton's announcement.
Neither indicated their candidate had withdrawn from the rally.