Politicians Try to Tap Old-Time Religion to Exhort the Faithful (Voters)

Monday, 04 Oct 2010 12:00 PM

By Mike Tighe

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October and baseball playoffs, especially with the New York Yankees in the thick of things, remind many in the Empire State, and baseball fans nationwide, of outfielder Reggie Jackson. After all, his “Mr. October” nickname came from his late-season heroics (in particular, home runs in three, consecutive at-bats) in the Yankees’ 1977 World Series championship. The perennial All Star, MVP, and first-ballot Hall of Famer reigned supreme back in the day, but these days, the Mr. October title also could go to politicians, who are pounding the pavement in and around pew-packed churches.

Reggie Jackson, Mr. October, politicians, New York, Cuomo, YankeesIt’s not that politicians necessarily get religion all of a sudden, but rather, they’re in the October playoffs for the political payoff come November, according to a report in Sunday’s New York Times.

Indeed, before church clock towers struck noon on Sunday, three of the Empire State’s top politicians had dropped in on three congregations, the Times reported, noting the appearances of the attorney general and comptroller, who are running for statewide office, and the Big Apple’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo started his visit to Brown Memorial Baptist Church Sunday with a message any preacher might deliver: “God is good,” the Times quoted him as saying as he took the pulpit, to applause from church members. “All the time,” he added with a roar.

He then turned the pulpit to politics as he exhorted worshippers to vote for him for governor.

Church officials agree (some lament) that election season turns pulpits to soap boxes for candidates pushing for a turnout at the ballot boxes.

“When it’s really near an election, we could have one every week,” says W. Ruth Whitney, the political liaison at Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Brooklyn.

“I always tell them to bring a card, because the pastor’s mind is on the sermon. They give a card so he’ll remember who they are,” Whitney told the Times.

The Times noted the double bang for the buck politicians can get in their steeple chases: “A politician gets to soak up a sense of moral authority while also demonstrating some personal piety.”

Of course, there’s a risk when the devoted faithful view the politicians as just another pretty face instead of a regular churchgoer.

“The risk is that you get a backlash from those who say, ‘I’ve never seen you before,’ ” the Rev. Al Sharpton told the Times. If a candidate is viewed as exploiting a religious service, Mr. Sharpton said in an interview, “the pastor’s wink can turn into a frown.”

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