WASHINGTON -- President Bush promised black college graduates in Hampton, Va., yesterday that his economic, education and civil rights policies would help them realize their full potential.
As he spoke, officials of three major cities sharply criticized some of those policies as amounting to, in the words of one, "absolute abandonment" of the cities by the federal government. And when he finished, a few of the graduates silently raised their fists to protest his veto last year of the civil rights bill. Many others sat silently.
In a commencement address at Hampton University, a historically black school, Mr. Bush extolled a series of administration programs and policies which, he said, "give every American, rich or poor or middle class, white, black or brown, a fair chance to pursue his or her destiny."
"We've encouraged communities . . . to roll up their sleeves and help . . . by taking on crime and hunger and other disturbances that make it almost impossible to learn," he said.
Meanwhile, New York City Mayor David N. Dinkins told interviewers on CBS television that with othermayors he would meet members of Congress on Wednesday to seek legislation to help their cities meet enormous financial problems.
"The federal government, over the last 12 years, has pulled the rug out from under New York City," city comptroller Elizabeth Holtzman told a Cable News Network interviewer. If the city "had the same level of aid today that we had in 1980 from the federal government, we would have virtually no budget problem at all."
Ms. Holtzman, a former congresswoman from New York and member of the House Budget Committee, pointed to the nearly $1 trillion for the savings and loan bail-out and said of Congress, "They could find the money to help deal with these serious problems of AIDS and drugs and education."
Kathy Whitmire, the Democratic mayor of Houston, who said her city had reduced services and cut its work force by 10 percent, said, "The federal government has turned more and more responsibilities over to us and even given us mandates. We find our costs going through the roof because of . . . decisions that are made at the federal level that cause taxes to go up at the local level."
Washington's Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and City Council Chairman John Wilson in separate interviews also warned that the loss of federal funds would result in worsening of crime, health and educationproblems in their city.
Mr. Bush also pointed to signs of a failing education system in falling test scores and rising dropout rates and defended his America 2000 strategy for education, which emphasizes choice in allowing children from poor neighborhoods to enroll in schools in wealthier neighborhoods.
He repeated his calls for a cut in the capital gains tax rate and for approval of "fast-track" authority for a trade treaty with Mexico. With such authority, the administration would present the trade pact for a simple "yes" or "no" vote, and no congressional amendments could be added.
With apparent reference to trade union criticism of Mexican factories as unsafe and environmentally offensive, the president accused unnamed opponents of the fast-track authority of "resorting to slurs against our Mexican neighbors."
Cloaking the political battle for a trade agreement in an argument of racial prejudice, the president said, "If we want to lead the post-Cold War world, we must not build walls of prejudice and doubt."
The president, who has said he will veto a new civil rights bill this year if he determines that it leads to hiring quotas, said, "We must free people who have been held back by barriers of discrimination.
"And this administration will fight discrimination vigorously because a kinder, gentler nation must not be gentle or kind to those who practice prejudice."