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Giuliani Divorce: Who's Winning in the Court of Public Opinion?

Aired May 22, 2001 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST: It is the latest round in a very bitter and public divorce. A judge tells New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's companion to stay out of Gracie Mansion. The judge says she's putting the interests of the mayor's two children first. But is it right for Judith Nathan to be banned from her boyfriend's house? And how is this long-running soap opera playing in New York?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The thing's like typical New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Donna should move out and they should move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I couldn't care less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's overhyped. I'm tired of reading about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Meanwhile, another controversial New York figure says he's coming to the rescue of the Democratic Party. The Reverend Al Sharpton says he may run for president in 2004: a progressive campaign, he says, to confront issues the Democrats haven't faced up to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Given the voter rights violations of last year, and in my opinion, the lack of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party fighting that, clearly, we need a new strategy in the progressive communities of 2004, and I think a candidacy is in order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BATTISTA: Should the mayor's companion be told to stay out of his house? And would you vote for Al Sharpton?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE.

First up today, the "War of the Roses" continues at New York's Gracie Mansion, with a judge's ruling keeping the mayor's girlfriend out of the house. Joining us from New York today, Cecile Weich. She is an attorney specializing in women's legal rights and matrimonial law. And from Chicago, Jeffery Leving, a custody and fathers' rights attorney.

Welcome to both of you.

Is this a fair ruling in your mind, Cecile?

CECILE WEICH, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: Absolutely. The judge is considering the welfare and the good feeling of the children, and the ruling is absolutely correct.

BATTISTA: Jeffery, you have to admit that in most people's minds it's a little bit cheesy for the girlfriend to be there or to be visiting there while the family is still living in the house.

JEFFERY LEVING, FATHERS' RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, from the information I have concerning the evidence that was presented to the court, there's no evidence of any type of sexual intercourse or anything that would be serious endangerment to the children.

WEICH: Oh, my goodness.

LEVING: So I look at the judge's ruling as a ruling that may be in the best interests of the mother but not the children. There was no guardian appointed for the children and no mental health evaluation ordered by the courts. So without a guardian protecting the children, without a mental health evaluation, how does the judge know what is really in the best interests of the children?

So I look at this ruling as a pro-mom ruling and a ruling that may not consider what's in the best interests of the children. I am hoping that in the future there is a guardian appointed to protect the children and a competent mental health evaluator who gets involved in this case who can recommend to this court what is best for the children.

WEICH: What's best for the children is not to have the father bring his girlfriend into a house where their mother and they are living. One doesn't need a law guardian or a mental health evaluator to judge this particular aspect of the Giuliani diverse.

Mayor Giuliani is acting selfishly and for his own interests and not protecting the best interests of his children. And so the court has stepped in to do so and rightly so.

BATTISTA: On the other hand, the judge also did order the mayor to introduce his children to Judith Nathan sometime in the next 30 days, to set up some sort of meeting so that they could gradually get to know her, because, you know, she may be part of their lives later.

Is that a usual part of a ruling like this?

WEICH: Sometimes. Sometimes.

LEVING: Well, that's an important part of that ruling. The reason it's important, because this woman may possibly be the children's future stepmother. So it's important that this woman not be demonized in the minds of the children, because they may all be living together under one roof. And the key here is protecting the best interests of the children: not looking whether to blame the mom or the dad, but how do we protect these children.

People are human beings. People fall in and out of love, relationships change, but the real key is how do we protect children during changing relationships, which is affecting our society.

WEICH: Well, that's a -- that's a very good point. However, according to the mayor's track run, there's going to be a lot of women that his children are going to be introduced to. This mayor seems to change his paramours every year or so, including his wife.

BATTISTA: Does it...

WEICH: I think that certainly the judge made a correct ruling that this woman should be kept out of the home of the wife and the children now. I'm not so sure that her ruling with reference to introducing the children to the paramour at this particular time prior to divorce was such a good part of the ruling.

BATTISTA: Does it complicate matters here that Gracie Mansion is a public piece of property and it's a public building for the most part? Or do you think the judge was viewing this first and foremost as the mayor's home?

WEICH: I think the judge was viewing it as first and foremost as the mayor -- the mayor's home, the home of his wife, the home of his children. And indeed, although this is a public building, you go there by invitation.

There's one kitchen. The children eat their meals downstairs. The public comes in at functions where the public is invited.

This is primarily a private home, not a public home.

LEVING: But it is still the mayor's residence, and if by the mother's presence in the mayor's residence, it will cause conflict which will be harmful to the children then I would hope the mother would consider moving out. And I hope...

WEICH: Absolutely not. LEVING: Could I please finish?

WEICH: Please finish, but I disagree.

LEVING: Well, let me finish and then you can disagree to another statement. But I am also hoping that the mother is not staying in that home for legal leverage, because as an attorney I am familiar with what attorneys sometimes may recommend to clients. And if she's staying in there for legal leverage and that is negatively impacting the children, then I think she should consider moving out.

BATTISTA: Well, I've got this e-mail from...

WEICH: First of all -- first of all, the mayor and she agreed that she would stay in the mansion until the end of his term. That's No. 1. No. 2, she is staying, I would assume, in the mansion so that her children have completeness and solidarity until such time as it's necessary for all of them to move out into other quarters.

BATTISTA: I just got this e-mail from Sandy in New York who says: "I am not a Giuliani fan, but Gracie Mansion is the mayor's official residence. It is not the official residence of his separated wife. It is also public property. As a New York citizen, I could go to Gracie Mansion, and so could any other New York citizen, including Ms. Nathan."

WEICH: Only by invitation. You cannot walk into Gracie Mansion without an invitation. The mayor's...

LEVING: But with an invitation...

WEICH: ... was at...

LEVING: That's not the issue.

WEICH: The mayor's paramour was at -- yes, it most certainly is.

It's a private mansion that is also the public home of the mayor, his wife and his children. This is not just the mayor's home. This is the home of his wife and children, and his wife and children are there because he and his wife have agreed that they're to be there until the end of his term.

There's absolutely no reason whatsoever to have his paramour in the mansion, absolutely not. expect for his own egomania.

LEVING: Let's -- let's assume that -- let's -- let's assume -- and let's forget about egomania and let's not throw dirt on him or her, because the reality of this issue is not throwing blame, how do we protect the children.

WEICH: Well, the judge is doing that by keeping the paramour out of the mansion.

LEVING: I don't believe the judge is doing that.

WEICH: That's precisely what...

LEVING: If the judge was doing it, I believe the judge should have entered a gag order and should have kept the parties out of the media. But unfortunately, there are some judges...

WEICH: The parties should have kept the parties out of the media.

LEVING: Let's...

WEICH: This is a bad mistake on both of their parts.

LEVING: What is the purpose of the court system? The purpose of the court system, especially in a hotly contested divorce case, is sometimes to protect the parties from themselves, to protect the children when the parents are unable to do it...

WEICH: That's absolutely untrue.

LEVING: ... because of conflict.

So if something is going on that isn't in the best interests of the children or their parents, that's why we have a judge, that's why we have a court system.

BATTISTA: Let me -- let me keep polling the citizens of New York here.

WEICH: Well, the judge has -- has certainly said...

BATTISTA: Hold on one second. James is on the phone from New York. Go ahead.

JAMES: Yes. I think it is very selfish on the part of Giuliani to have her come to Gracie Mansion due to the fact she has an apartment herself, I'm quite sure. And why can't he go to her apartment or they meet someplace else? That's disrespecting his kids and his other wife. That's what I think about it.

He should go to her place, either have her meet him someplace else or something like that. Why...

LEVING: But this isn't a relationship that's being hidden. It's not a dirty relationship. This is a friendship, and the mayor is impotent, from what I've read. So I have no information of their sexual intercourse or hugging or kissing in front of the children. It's a friendship, from what I have in front of me, and it doesn't appear dirty. It seems to be a real healthy relationship.

WEICH: It has nothing to do with being dirty. There's nothing dirty...

BATTISTA: I can't believe he leaked that, by the way.

WEICH: Yeah. No, I mean, this is ridiculous.

BATTISTA: You know what? I guess -- that's more than we need to know.

(CROSSTALK)

WEICH: Certainly there's a paramour. That woman should not be at his home, a that he shares with his wife and his children in spite of the fact that's it's a public mansion. It's poor taste on his part. It's ungentlemanly on his part, and thank goodness the judge said this is not in best interest of the children, and she said that Ms. Nathan should not come to the public mansion.

BATTISTA: I have got to take a quick break here first and we will talk a little bit more about all this stuff that's been said by both sides' attorneys in this divorce case. It is pretty incredible. A little bit later in the show Al Sharpton is in the hot seat and he will tell you why he should be in the White House.

Take part in online viewer vote. Today's question: Would you vote for Al Sharpton? Go to cnn.com/talkback, AOL keyword CNN. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience again on this. Mumtuz, you are from England. Your opinion what is going on in New York City?

MUMTUZ: I think I totally agree with the judge's decision. I think it's the children's well-being that should be considered first rather than, you know, sort of getting into this debate of what should happen, whether the girlfriend should visit the home or not, so I totally support that decision.

BATTISTA: And Shelby, what is going on in that chat room?

SHELBY: Well, there are comments on both sides of the issue. Just a few of the comments: The wife is trying to embarrass Giuliani. The kids already know what is going on, so it is OK. A couple of the other ones are hinting on his family values: "Family values must not be a concern of Giuliani's," and "Clinton didn't flaunt his affair, Giuliani seems proud of it."

BATTISTA: All right. Let me ask our two divorce lawyers about this because, as we know, this is a very, very vocal divorce, shall we say, between the two lawyers -- well actually the one lawyer, in particular. The mayor's lawyer has been very, very vocal, about bad mouthing his client's spouse. Now when divorce attorneys get into that sort of a strategy, what are they going for there, Cecile?

WEICH: I think that he's just doing it -- I think he's going for nothing. Well, let me put it this way, he's certainly seeking public opinion, but I think it's backfired on him. I personally believe that he shouldn't have done it. I don't think most attorneys do it. I think that he likes the publicity himself, and I think that Mayor Giuliani loves the publicity that he's getting.

BATTISTA: But even the mayor was in on it, Jeffery. I mean, you know, supposedly he gave the OK for Raoul Felder to say some of these things and he allowed the fact that he was impotent to come out through his aides.

LEVING: Well, different lawyers have different strategies. I generally do not approve of throwing a lot of dirt on the other side, and in a case like this, where the litigation is very emotional, and you throw a lot of dirt on the mom, you call her an uncaring mother, and then you refer to her as howling like a stuck pig, or words to that effect. And you do that around the mother's day weekend, that, in my opinion, would surely backfire.

And that probably would have a negative impact on the court because the judge in this case is a woman, and she probably is supportive of the rights of women, and hopefully of men and children, too, and she is hearing that these negative comments are being made about this mother around Mother's Day. It probably affected her decision. Actually, I'm confident...

WEICH: No, no. Absolutely not.

LEVING: Did you read the decision? You better read the decision before you make an incorrect comment because it is right in the decision.

WEICH: I've appeared before Judge Gish (ph). She's a very fair judge. She knows the law...

LEVING: I didn't say she wasn't fair, but...

WEICH: She takes the children -- the Felder's comments are for public relations purposes. It is absolutely not going to affect the judge's decision and absolutely...

LEVING: Did you read the judge's decision?

WEICH: It has absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of this divorce. It is done for public relations purposes, and in my opinion it backfired.

BATTISTA: But what kind of public relations? I mean, I think he's losing that battle big time in New York, isn't he?

WEICH: That's exactly the point. But Felder thinks that this is the way he should proceed. We can disagree with him, but can I assure you this has absolutely nothing to do with the judge's decision, nothing to do with the outcome of this divorce case. It's just Felder sounding off.

LEVING: Well, then I would recommend then my alerted counsel read the court's decision. Because in the judge's decision she specifically reprimanded counsel and the mayor for these remarks that were made against the mother, so...

WEICH: Fine but that has nothing to do with the ultimate...

LEVING: ... it is right in the court's decision.

WEICH: That has nothing to do with the ultimate decision in this divorce case. All she is saying is that everything here that's going on is in bad form. Let's protect these children.

BATTISTA: I think everybody can agree with that.

WEICH: She's doing absolutely the right thing. The judge is doing the right thing. It has nothing to do whether she's a woman or not. She's a fair judge. She knows the law. She's protecting the children. That's what we have to be concerned about here. If Felder wants to sound off, let him sound off.

BATTISTA: Let me go to the audience quickly, Lauren.

LAUREN: Hi. I was just wondering if the kids' statements were taken during the court case. If they're 15 and 11, it seem like they would have a stance on this that would be allowed to...

WEICH: No. They have no right to have a stance on this. And their opinions are not considered in these preliminary proceedings, absolutely not.

LEVING: It's unfortunate that the rights of children are not always paramount in these types of cases, and what concerns me in this case is there's no guardian appointed to protect the children. Both parents have lawyers. Mom and dad both have lawyers, but the children are not represented by an attorney or a guardian, and there's no mental health evaluation that has been ordered. So my focus here is on the children.

WEICH: The judge has indicated that she's going to appoint a law guardian and a forensic evaluator if the parties cannot agree on the initial phases of the divorce proceedings, and the judge is proceeding properly.

BATTISTA: OK, Pat, in the audience.

PAT: It's pretty clear, I think, that Donna has taken this out of Hillary Clinton's playbook. She's becoming a great victim and she's setting herself up for when Giuliani gets out of office. I mean, she's not innocent in this. She's using these kids to make herself look better, and there's nothing that Giuliani has done that I agree with, but she's just as culpable for any damage that's done to them.

If she cared, she probably -- if she cared, she would take the kids and put them in a place where there's not television cameras, or there's not radio reporters; she's just as bad as he is.

BATTISTA: Well, a lot of people do wonder -- I've gotten a bunch e-mails from people asking, why didn't she leave?

WEICH: She doesn't have to leave.

BATTISTA: I know. I grant you that.

WEICH: And she shouldn't leave.

BATTISTA: Most people do when they separate, though. WEICH: She should stay there with the children.

BATTISTA: Well, obviously...

WEICH: She's not doing anything wrong. He's acting improperly.

LEVING: Why didn't she agree to a gag order, then, to keep this out of the media...

WEICH: There's a very good reason for that.

LEVING: Tell me, I would like to know.

WEICH: I will tell you. He's the mayor of the city of New York. He can leak all kinds of things in the media.. If there's a gag order, she would not have the right to defend herself. And I absolutely agree with her attorney's resistance to such a gag order, and obviously, the judge does, too.

BATTISTA: One more comment on this. Chris in Maine, before we go to break. Go ahead, Chris.

CHRIS: I don't think the judge's ruling is anybody else's business, I think the woman with the rope tied around her head needs to let the other guy speak a little bit more, rather than giving her own opinion.

(LAUGHTER)

WEICH: If he's saying the right thing, I will let him speak. If he says...

BATTISTA: Now Chris, don't call back if you are not going to be nice to our guests. All right? Cecile Weich, and Jeffery Leving, thank you both very much. We appreciate it. It is none of our business, but we appreciate you discussing it.

WEICH: Thank you.

BATTISTA: In a moment, would you vote for Al Sharpton for president? Find out why he thinks he's the right man for the job. We will be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: OK, President Al Sharpton. How does that sound? The civil rights activist is floating the idea of a run for the presidency. Could he really win?

Here to talk about it first today, while we wait for the reverend to arrive -- he's in the building, as we understand it. Peter Noel, a reporter who covers African-American activist politics for the "Village Voice," and who has followed Al Sharpton's career over the past 23 years.

And from Washington, Jonah Goldberg, editor of the "National Review Online," and a nationally syndicated columnist.

Hi, thanks for coming in today.

OK, Peter, you say that you have known about this decision for quite some time by Reverend Sharpton. Why would he want to do this?

PETER NOEL, "VILLAGE VOICE": Well, I don't know why he leaked it to someone else, but that's OK. I believe he has been grooming himself over the years for this, Bobbie. I have watched this social, political transformation over the years. I've watched him come from Calconite (ph) to Brooks Brothers, with his type of clothes.

And Reverend Sharpton has been able to articulate the pain, the rage of African-Americans, young victims of police brutality, racial profiling, and he's been able to bury the sons and daughters of a lot of victims and understand what it like for advocate for racial justice in this country.

BATTISTA: Jonah, what would be the Republican reaction to a definitive run?

NOEL: Well...

BATTISTA: Let me ask Jonah for a Republican reaction.

All right. I don't sit here as a spokesperson for any Republicans, although I would surmise that the Republican reaction would be "Yippee!" The idea of Al Sharpton running for the Democratic nomination would probably be the best news possible for the Republican Party in 2004. It may not be good news for America, and that's a different issue.

But the idea -- the idea that Al Sharpton could actually become president, which I suppose is the question of the day. If he actually thinks he could actually be president in 2004 or if ever, he has already disqualified himself for the job, because he is insane. There is absolutely no way...

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: Let me put you both on standby for just a second, because the man himself is here, so we can pose some of these questions for him. So, if you all stand by for just a few second for -- the Reverend Al Sharpton is with us.

He is the president and founder of the National Action Network. Reverend Sharpton, thank you for coming in.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Thank you.

BATTISTA: Why in heaven's name do you want to do this? Are you running definitely, and why do you want to do it?

SHARPTON: Well, I have said that I feel there needs to be a progressive candidate in the 2004 race, and I would be available to be that candidate. Or I would support someone like Maxine Waters, because I feel that what happened last year in the 2000 election was a disgrace. People were disenfranchised, tens of thousands of voters were denied the right to vote. And both parties did not deal with the voter rights issue, would not deal with voter disenfranchisement.

In many ways, I don't see how many people will come back to young people and to voters that have been historically left out and tell them, let's come back out in record numbers, when they can't explain to them why they did not protect the record numbers that came out last time. So, I think it's important for someone that has symbolized and worked in those communities, and worked with those elements of society that is not in the electorate, to come forth and put their issues on the table, and to run a campaign to be victorious for the people.

It's easy for people that have always had the disadvantaged to act like we are insane to want what they want. They thought we were insane to want to be in front of the bus or insane to eat in the same restaurant. But whether they like it or not, this country is for everybody, not just them. And it's not insane for to us to want to be able to share it all.

BATTISTA: Do you really think...

SHARPTON: ...present president, that has his background, clearly, I think that it doesn't take much for us to understand people that have spent entire life fighting on behalf of other people, should be in a position to run for president of those people.

BATTISTA: Yes, but do you really think that you could you win the presidency, or you really just trying to draw attention to issues important to African-American voters and get dialogue going on that? And is running for president really the best way to do that?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, I'm not talking just African- American voters. I'm talking all voters. I've fought for African- Americans, Latinos, whites -- I've -- when we fought the voter case in Florida, it wasn't just for African-Americans, we fought for victims of police brutality that were white, we fought for inclusion in the corporate world for everybody. So, it's not just whites. Clearly, it's to put issues out there and clearly it is to win. But the question is, does it take this to run?

You know, in '80s, when Reverend Jackson ran, it put a lot of issues out front. Nelson Mandela in jail became a national issue. There was no one who had ever heard of before that. Many of the things about public health became an issue.

Since then, in three of national elections, in '92, '96 and 2000, all of those issues were put to the side. So, I think it is a good way to open up the issues. I think that what people want is to have a narrow debate between the right wing of the Democratic Party and the right wing of the Republican Party, where the people and their concerns are not in the debate. And I think that we cannot afford a fourth national election where that is the agenda.

BATTISTA: Clearly though, your appeal primarily right now is to African-American voters, or minority voters. SHARPTON: Well, I could say that George Bush's appeal is to white voters...

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: ... let me ask you this: do you feel that only one voice should be heard to represent those groups?

SHARPTON: Oh, absolutely not, which is why I said I would support Maxine Waters. I would support others.

And let me say this: to have one candidate doesn't mean you have other voices. There are other white voices other than Bush, but he's the president. So, why, if you have a high-profile black leader, does that mean that there are not other black leaders? Blacks are not anymore unintelligent than anyone else. We have people that do different things, from Colin Powell to Al Sharpton, from Earl Graves to Wynton Marsalis.

I mean, clearly we are diversified and intelligent enough to know who we want to do what and to do that best, like anybody else in America.

BATTISTA: Reverend, I have two words for you that will forever be associated with you: Tawana Brawley and the rape case that never was. How will you overcome that and some other baggage from your past?

SHARPTON: First of all, I have been out here for about 20 years. I fought many cases. If the only two words you have is one case, then I'm doing much better than anybody who run for president, because in two decades I fought the Brawley case and the Louima case, I fought the case of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I fought cases of Amadou Diallo, many cases, and I want to match my record against anybody running for a national office.

If all you can come with is that I stood and believed in a girl that many in her hometown and her parents believed in, then clearly that speaks volumes more than a lot of who the Republicans and others have brought who have clearly personal baggage in their own lives.

Secondly, I think when you look at the criminal justice system -- I just fought a case where a young man was assaulted by police in the precinct, in the police house. Sodomized with a plunger in the police house. People said that was unbelievable. Those policemen are in jail today.

So, if I would go by what the public was told to believe, we would not have won the Louima case. Clearly, in the world in which I live, unfortunately these cases are the norm, not the abnorm, which is why they don't want this debate to take place.

BATTISTA: But would you admit that you were wrong in the Brawley case?

SHARPTON: Why would I be wrong? Because a jury disagreed? Many people disagreed with the jury on O.J.! I absolutely do not back down off of what I believe in. If I believed differently, then I would say I'm wrong.

BATTISTA: But she backed down off her story. That story fell apart.

SHARPTON: That's an absolute lie, she's never said that. She said that it's they -- that that is what happened. What are you talking about?

BATTISTA: Well, the story has unraveled, that's for sure.

SHARPTON: No, no, you said that she denied it, and that's a total misnomer. I think that any reporter could tell you that what you just said is not true, and those are the kinds of misinformation that we have got to stop...

(CROSSTALK)

BATTISTA: But the prosecutor you charged with rape in that case won a defamation suit against you.

SHARPTON: She charged, and I believed -- and that jury said that I didn't make it up, I didn't conspire. They didn't see the evidence, which is why their verdict was -- they voted that there was no conspiracy here to lie. There was no conspiracy here to perpetrate a hoax. That was their vote, there was no conspiracy charge there.

So, again, unless we have these discussions, people are allowed to get away with surface things. And that is why we need to really have a serious debate in this country. Nobody would have believed Rodney King if there wasn't a videotape! No one would believe how farmers right now in the Midwest are suffering if someone doesn't bring the issue out. It's time to open up the real America to all Americans, and stop having narrow parts of each party dictate the debate.

BATTISTA: All right, I have got to take a quick break here, and we will continue in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: Couple of e-mails that have come in here: "I would support Al Sharpton because he is very rarely politically correct, he is not afraid to go against the grain and I will support anyone who thinks like that."

Mike in Crystal Lake, Illinois, says: "I think Al Sharpton is a race baiter, plain and simple. Much like Jesse Jackson, he runs on a negative "us versus them" style, which can only be destructive to this country."

Reverend?

SHARPTON: Well, I think, you know, us versus them -- I'm trying to deal with the fact that us, all of us, have been left out of the debate.

And in terms of race baiting, I led a march in New York when a young man was killed in section called (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I was stabbed right here, two inches from my heart, I look at the scar every morning, by a white man. Not only didn't I race bait, I forgave him, visited him in jail.

I would challenge anyone in American political life to show me a more dramatic demonstration of how you are not trying to race-bait, but trying to bring people together around justice. What they want is us to submit quietly to injustice, and that raises the issues for blacks, whites, or Latino. And I have refused to be quiet. I have said that we need to loudly deal with the injustices in this country, so we can solve them.

BATTISTA: Let me take a phone call from Jeff in New York. Jeff, go ahead.

JEFF: Yes, good afternoon. I would unequivocally vote for Al Sharpton, because he has lived with the poorest in the nation, and I think that gives him a broad latitude of the problems of the nation. I think he would be a great leader.

BATTISTA: Jeff, thank you. And a comment from Deborah, or a question.

DEBORAH: I think it's very important to know that you really can be a serious candidate, and such as in the last election, where Ralph Nader really ended up splitting the vote, probably the election was changed due to the fact that he was running and in the race. And in the end, when he was asked later whether or not his running made a difference, he said it probably did because that 1, 2, 3 percent in every state made a difference.

BATTISTA: Would you be concerned about that, Reverend, about possibly ending up in the roll of a spoiler?

SHARPTON: Well, first of all, we are talking Democratic primaries at this point. Nader did not run at Democratic primaries, he ran independent. So, you are not talking about the same scenario.

What I would argue if I ran in the Democratic primaries, it may bring the 2 or 3 percentage out that is necessary. Because again, how are they going to appeal to that base that they allowed to be disenfranchised? Now, if we went and did an independent presidential campaign, that would be a relevant question.

But I think what people have to ask themselves is if Nader said things that millions of people heard, that the party wouldn't hear, do you blame Nader or do you blame those in the party that wouldn't hear what Nader and other people were trying to say? I mean, how arrogant are we that we're going to tell people -- you've got to do it my way or you are spoiling me -- to stand up for what you believe? That's ridiculous.

Just like you have Buchanan on the right, you had a Nader on the left. People have the right to go about what they believe and not be accused of spoiling people's chances who happen to disagree with them.

BATTISTA: All right, Alex in the audience, go ahead.

ALEX: I agree with you on that. I don't think vote splitting is really the issue. I think that if you believe that voters actually have been disenfranchised and the Democratic Party has turned its back on you, I think the reverend has not only the right to run for president, but maybe its his obligation to his own party.

SHARPTON: And that's the real point. You know, I ran for United States Senate in New York, and one out of every four Democrats in the state voted for me, white and black. There are not enough blacks in the state that I could have only -- I could have gotten that vote only with black votes.

So with all of the Republican -- the right-wing spin, there are many people that agree. And anyone that can get my kind of vote, with no money, certainly has the right to run. If you want to run against me, debate the issues. But don't talk about what is crazy when you're talking to people who nobody voted.

I mean, you have commentators on that couldn't win a vote at Thanksgiving dinner with their family as the electorate. But they talk against people like me who've clearly come to the marketplace and shown strength. Those people are not crazy. Those people want to see people that will stand up for what they believe.

BATTISTA: And one more call, Brad in Nevada, go ahead.

CALLER: Mr. Sharpton, I'd just like to ask, aren't you really running right now because Jesse Jackson basically shot himself in the foot and you can more or less take over where he left off -- you can take all his votes?

SHARPTON: First of all, Jesse Jackson ran in '88. And 2004, that would be 16 years ago. Reverend Jackson didn't run in '92, '96 or 2000. So what do you mean, take his place? Unless you think that I had a delayed 16-year reaction. I think that's crazy. I think, if anything, I'm in his tradition if I choose to run. And if I run, I'd be running against Bush, not Jackson.

BATTISTA: One more question before you go, Reverend. Have you thought about mayor of New York, running for that? Or have you endorsed anyone for that yet?

SHARPTON: Oh, no, I've said that we will be making an endorsement in the next few days. I'm on my way to Puerto Rico to deal with the question of Vieques and bombing, and when I come back I'm clear that I'll probably be making an endorsement there. And hopefully we will be making endorsements in other mayor races around the country. Detroit, we have a chaplain, Miami. We're going to be dealing in a lot of races around the country. If the Republicans and the right wing think that we are going to be weak, they have another thought coming.

BATTISTA: All right, Reverend Al Sharpton, thank you very much for joining us this afternoon. Appreciate it. We'll take a break here and we'll continue in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: All right. Mike in Indianapolis says: "Al Sharpton will guarantee George W. Bush another four years in the White House."

Eric in Philadelphia says: "Despite my concerns with some of Al Sharpton's past exposes, as a Caucasian male I would gladly cast my vote for him as an independent, based on his present positions."

Elsie, you're from New York. Go ahead.

ALYSSA: It's Alyssa.

BATTISTA: Alyssa, I'm sorry.

ALYSSA: I was in New York -- I'm from New York and spent many years there and lived there many years. And I've lived here and in Florida. I happened to be in New York when he marched over the bridge to Mayor Giuliani's office to make a statement, and it was a very necessary statement, so I was very impressed. And I have to say, I think he has every right to run for president.

BATTISTA: Jonah Goldberg and Peter Noel.

Jonah, let me start with you. Are you underestimating Al Sharpton? He touched a cord, I think, with a number of people in the audience here.

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW" ONLINE: He's a charming and charismatic guy, and he sort of twisted what I said when I said he is insane if he thinks he can win the presidency -- to turning it into saying that I think he's insane for trying to run. Those are two different things.

Nobody -- nobody in the world who follows politics professionally thinks that Al Sharpton, being as close as he is to a black David Duke, could possibly win the presidency in a national election. That doesn't mean he shouldn't run. People in this country are allowed to run. Everyone is allowed to bring the issues they want.

(CROSSTALK)

NOEL: Bobbie, that's the kind of race based thing you will get from them. You see, people like them can't let go of the fact. You see, white America is very upset, and reporters like him -- they are very upset about the fact that a black man is running. Not because Al Sharpton has some political baggage.

GOLDBERG: That's ridiculous!

NOEL: No, you're upset because he's black...

GOLDBERG: I don't care if he's black...

NOEL: Yes, you are. (CROSSTALK)

NOEL: It's your racist fear.

GOLDBERG: I care that he's a racist and a race hater, that I -- I don't care that he's black.

NOEL: All right. And the fact is that -- this would be the Republicans worst nightmare. They want to make sure...

(LAUGHTER)

NOEL: Yes, of course.

GOLDBERG: That's ridiculous.

NOEL: But the fact is that Al Sharpton sued the Republican National Committee for some libelous things that they've said about him. And he was kind enough to drop the suit. And people like you would never allow a black man to run in this country because of your racist fears. You have to get rid of those fears.

GOLDBERG: That's utterly ridiculous. Just because I won't endorse a kind of black man that you like is a different issue.

NOEL: Get rid of your racist fears...

GOLDBERG: I have all sorts of fond things to say about all sorts of black politicians. The idea that somehow because I think Al Sharpton should be held accountable for the disgusting and libelous things he's done in his life somehow makes me a racist is disgusting in your part, sir.

NOEL: I have covered him for 22 years.

GOLDBERG: Good for you.

NOEL: And I know -- because I know him. And all things thing about Tawana Brawley, and different things -- you read those things on Lexis-Nexis. You know nothing about him. And I'm saying...

GOLDBERG: You make it sound as if Lexis-Nexis isn't "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal," every mainstream newspaper in the country.

BATTISTA: Peter, the issue with Tawana Brawley, though, is that the perception is there that he was wrong in that case, and that that story did not have...

NOEL: No! Bobbie, no. Bobbie, no, listen...

BATTISTA: It's there, though.

NOEL: Bobbie, listen, I covered this case, not from an African- American perspective, but from a journalistic perspective. And the media in New York City and across the country were particularly biased because this man wanted to advocate for a 15-year-old girl who said she was raped by six white men. She told him that. He went out and he advocated for her.

BATTISTA: But when her story fell apart -- and the where is she today?

NOEL: A very biased grand jury that was picked, said that they didn't believe her story. I believe her story. I believe something happened to her.

GOLDBERG: There isn't a mainstream journalist in the country other than this guy who seems to think the Tawana Brawley case actually has merit. It's irresponsible of him to go around saying that somehow I represent some sort of white consensus. Most of the reporters in this industry are far to my left, and they all treat Al Sharpton with kid gloves. The idea that somehow, they don't want a black man to run is absurd. Al Sharpton...

NOEL: No! I...

GOLDBERG: ... we're talking about white interlopers, and the conspiracies...

NOEL: That's not true. There you go again. That's not true.

GOLDBERG: OK. That's not his only qualification.

NOEL: You just called him a black David Duke.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I did.

NOEL: And those are the kinds of reports that we are going to expect from people like you for the next couple of years.

GOLDBERG: OK.

NOEL: The fact is that Al Sharpton will get the Secret Service protection, he's going to be riding across the country, he's going to be going to Appalachian, and he's going to be seen speaking to the young, poor whites, and...

GOLDBERG: And therefore, what?

NOEL: And you people are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) about that!

GOLDBERG: Sir, I am really impressed that you think you are a psychic, but the idea that you can read my mind -- that's what I am afraid of.

NOEL: I'm not a psychic! This is ridiculous!

BATTISTA: You guys, I have to take a break.

I have to take a break here and I have to get to the audience when we come back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BATTISTA: All right. We're back. And everybody has calmed down. We had a Jerry Springer moment there. Didn't we, for a minute? Let me go to the audience and Jeff, go ahead.

JEFF: Hi. You know, obviously, I don't know Reverend Sharpton, but I get an initial negative impression, because I think some of what he does is for his own self-promotion. There can be an incident anywhere in the country and before you know it, Reverend Sharpton is there.

And instead of working behind the scenes, he is in front of the cameras, and it seems that he has build himself from that, and now, before we know it, he is already running for president. So, I just wonder how much of it is to help somebody and how much it is to help Reverend Sharpton.

BATTISTA: Peter, quickly.

NOEL: This is America and Reverend Sharpton certainly has mastered the art of actually coming forward to the cameras and the media, and actually telling the stories of young black men who are on their way to visit their families and have stopped on the turnpikes or on the roadways of this country, because they are black and they are driving a BMW and a Lexus.

And racist white police officers want to stop them and take away whatever they have, and risk their lives, most of the times. And so, if we could come to America, using a medium so American as apple pie, why not?

BATTISTA: Let me quickly do the poll here. The question that we asked today: would you vote for Al Sharpton for president? And about 1,000 votes have come in or more. 24 percent of you are saying that you would, and 76 percent are saying no.

Jonah Goldberg and Peter Noel. Love one another. Thank you very much for joining us today. I appreciate your time.

NOEL: Thank you.

GOLDBERG: Thanks.

BATTISTA: We are out of time as well. Thanks for all of our guests and our studio audience for joining us. We appreciate it.

And tomorrow we will talk about the possible banning of cell phones. While Congress talks about that, we'll talk about what cell phones are doing to us and the world we live in. Join us then.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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