Pa. primary may prove less perilous for Brown

GERMOND & WITCOVER

April 18, 1992|By Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover

PHILADELPHIA -- After his dismal third-place finish in the New York Democratic presidential primary, former Gov. Jerry Brown has a special reason to be glad that the scene has shifted to Pennsylvania for the next primary, April 28.

In New York, Brown was whipsawed by the often competing constituencies of Jewish and black voters there. When he pandered to the black vote by reiterating that he intended to ask the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to be his running mate, Jewish voters, who cast more than one-third of the Democratic primary vote in the state, overwhelmingly rejected him. And at the same time Brown did not win enough of the black vote to take it away from Clinton.

In Pennsylvania the black vote is again significant, making up as much as half the vote in Philadelphia and perhaps 15 percent statewide, but the Jewish vote is much smaller than in New York, less than 10 percent of the primary vote. So Brown can court the black vote without nearly the concern about how that action will diminish his support among Jewish Democrats.

One problem for Brown, however, may be that while he has embraced Jackson, the nation's most prominent black leader has not really endorsed him. In New York, as Brown patted his shoulder at a downtown Manhattan rally, Jackson said only that he would be "honored" to accept the vice-presidential nomination if it was tendered to him by "the party nominee" and the convention.

An indication that Jackson is not quite ready to board the sputtering Brown bandwagon is word from Mike Bourbeau, the Brown campaign coordinator in Pennsylvania, that as of now there are no plans for Jackson to campaign in the state in behalf of Brown.

Vegetables don't bite you

Every presidential primary has its ritual stop, and in Pennsylvania, it's the Italian Market along Ninth Street. Shopkeepers hawk hot Italian sausage, pastas of every description, cappuccino to die for and all manner of other edibles and drinkables, not by any means exclusively Italian.

And so it came to pass that early yesterday, the morning of Good Friday, candidate Bill Clinton arrived among the fishes and loaves in quest of votes in the state's primary. Shaking hands with peddlers of fruits and vegetables, Clinton grabbed a large bunch of broccoli -- that unspeakable item that never penetrates President Bush's readable lips -- and proclaimed it "the symbol of the Democratic Party." Clinton announced: "We like it. Bush doesn't."

At another stand, the Democratic front-runner picked up an ear of corn and waxed at length about how he had picked such delicacies with his grandfather in Arkansas as a boy. Wags in the press corps suggested that corn might be a better symbol for the party -- or at least for the quadrennial candidates' ritual of "working" the Italian Market.

One local onlooker, however, was less kind to Clinton than the street merchants who pressed around him wishing him well. ZTC When he called to Clinton to ask him one question, the governor looked up and nodded that he was listening. "If you cheated on your wife," the man asked, "what would you do to the country?" Clinton forced a weak smile, waved the man off and turned back to the unmenacing carts of broccoli, corn and other less toxic subjects.

Which just goes to show that unlike Sesame Street, where, when you come and play, everything's A-OK, a politician risks embarrassment wherever he goes -- even at the friendly Italian Market.

The best politics . . .

After years in local politics, Mayor Ed Rendell of Philadelphia, who is supporting Clinton, is accustomed to having visiting candidates meet him for the first time and proceed to tap his knowledge of the local political scene -- what they have to do to corral the key players.

But he says that in his first meeting with Clinton, the Arkansas governor instead asked what cities such as Philadelphia needed from the federal government. And after Rendell gave him a few of his thoughts, Clinton incorporated them into his remarks at the next event -- in terms demonstrating to the mayor that he had grasped all that his host had told him.

Rendell said Clinton's focus on policy rather than local political intelligence, unlike his other first-time callers, impressed him. (Or maybe it was just "Slick Willie" again).

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