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"You can look at the polls and see what's happening," said Rev. Charles Norris, who heads the Bethesda Missionary Baptist Church in Jamaica and is a leader in the political arm of the Southeast Queens Clergy for Community Empowerment, an umbrella organization of area congregations. He was referring to results released March 30 by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Conn., that showed Ferrer, a former city councilman and Bronx borough president, losing ground to his closest Democratic challenger, C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president and ex-councilwoman.Diallo died in 1999 after officers searching for a rape suspect in the Bronx fired 41 bullets at the unarmed immigrant as he reached for his wallet, striking him 19 times. His death enforced the perception among many that police use excessive force and mistreat minorities, but the officers in the case were later acquitted of the shooting. Ferrer, who criticized the shooting at the time, made his controversial comments March 15 at a meeting with police sergeants. He said the incident was not a crime and that prosecutors in the case had "over-indicted." After Ferrer's remarks, the Quinnipiac poll showed Ferrer's lead over Fields at 36 percent to 21 percent, a smaller gap than the 40 percent to 14 percent he enjoyed earlier in the month and one that could lead to a run-off in the Democratic primary. Roughly half the voters had heard about Ferrer's remarks, with 41 percent of them saying the comments caused them to think less favorably of him and 45 percent saying it made no difference. For black voters, 57 percent said their views of Ferrer had become more negative, while 35 percent said their opinion had not changed. In the latest poll, Fields leads Ferrer among black voters 39 percent to 31 percent"Ferrer's comments that the death of Amadou Diallo was not a crime seem to have hurt him, especially among black voters," said Maurice Carroll, the director of the Polling Institute.After a public outcry, Ferrer said last week he meant that while the jury's decision did not make the shooting acceptable, the community needed to accept the legal outcome. Referring to his indictment comment, he said many had implicated the whole Police Department rather than just the four officers involved in the incident.But Ferrer did not say he was sorry for his remarks, only that he had "carelessly" worded them."I haven't heard a definite apology yet, but he offered an explanation," Norris said.Archie Spigner, the St. Albans leader who served with Ferrer on the City Council, said he took Ferrer's clarification at face value."I think he's a man of integrity," he said. "I accept that." Spigner said people in the community had already made up their minds who to vote for and were not likely to change, with many supporting Fields because of their shared heritage and experiences."I don't think the remarks he made, based on his subsequent explanation, is a make-or-break issue for his campaign," Spigner said. He did acknowledge, however, that undecided voters were probably turned off by Ferrer's comments.While Spigner said Ferrer's remarks were not a "major topic of conversation" in his political circles, City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) noted the crowd's reaction to the mayoral candidate at a fund-raising dinner Friday for state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans)."The room did not stop to hear him," he said of the event at Antun's restaurant in Queens Village. For now, political watchers are waiting for the next Quinnipiac poll. Comrie said, "It's still early in the campaign." Norris, however, noted the lingering impact of the 1999 police shooting."There is a strong connection to that Diallo case," he said. "We won't ever forget that."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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