NEW YORK -- Democrats, like the Good Shepherd, seem obliged to worry every four years about one sheep straying from the flock. At the 1984 and 1988 national conventions, it was the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson who threatened to saunter off unless certain demands were met by the party nominee.
This year, it's Jerry Brown.
The former California governor spent much of yesterday dodging questions about whether he would follow Mr. Jackson's lead of Saturday night and endorse prospective party presidential nominee Bill Clinton.
"What's the rush?" he said to several such inquiries as he made the rounds of television interview shows and a Spanish Harlem soup kitchen. The important timetable is November, "not some great celebration of illusion this week."
In his determination to get the Democratic National Convention to address his "humility agenda" -- a list of pledges that he wants the party to make to cut into various officeholder privileges and perks -- Mr. Brown is the remaining prominent holdout at the love feast assembled to anoint the Arkansas governor and his chosen running mate, Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.
He continues to argue that the face that the Democratic Party is showing to the country is one of special advantages to politically and financially powerful constituencies, while ignoring the nation's poor anddisadvantaged who once were the heart of the party. The convention should address their needs now, he insists, rather than press him for some "verbal fig leaf" that will produce only "enforced uniformity."
To illustrate the point, Mr. Brown took his dwindling entourage to a soup kitchen run by and for the homeless in a converted Spanish Harlem hotel, which in earlier days housed prostitutes and drug addicts. He served up lunch for a few minutes while television cameras recorded the scene, then discussed with three residents the plight of the homeless -- and governmental aloofness toward them.
In an effort to get the former governor's endorsement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Ronald H. Brown has indicated that absent it he will not be given a formal speaking role at the convention. But Jerry Brown is not budging -- not yet, anyway. He indicated yesterday that the formal campaign didn't start until Labor Day so that would be plenty of time to make an endorsement -- if he was going to make one.
While proclaiming himself "a good Democrat," who keeps "an optimistic spirit," Jerry Brown said the party "has to include our coalition" or else many of the 4 million voters who supported him in the primaries could "go fishing" and the party would go down to defeat again.
In a way, it is appropriate that Mr. Brown has replaced Mr. Jackson as the Democrats' stray sheep. Like Mr. Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Mr. Brown has run a primary campaign for the presidential nomination that he has gradually converted into a movement as its immediate political objective has been frustrated.
When Mr. Jackson's chances for the nomination crumbled against Walter F. Mondale in 1984, he began to talk of objectives that transcended his presidential bid -- giving voice to Americans locked out of the political dialogue. He used his Rainbow Coalition over the next four years to keep his constituency informed and ready to respond to his call again in 1988. Once his chances of nomination were over that year, Mr. Jackson still said that "we win every day" by getting his message out and urged his backers to "keep hope alive" through political involvement under his leadership.
Mr. Brown is doing much the same thing now that his 1992 presidential bid has run out of gas. He has talked often of continuing his campaign to reform politics, particularly in the realm of campaign spending and what he now calls "corporate corruption," and his own political interests go beyond one speech at this convention.
Hillary Clinton, wife of the prospective presidential nominee, was interrupted yesterday during a talk to the California delegation by shouts of "Let Jerry speak!" After a moment, she replied: 'You know, I've never known Jerry not to speak when he wants to
Whether the convention managers give him a formal speaking role, Mr. Brown said yesterday that he does expect to address the convention. As of now, he plans to have his name placed in nomination for president tomorrow night, after which, his managers say, he will have the right to address the convention.
Mr. Brown's campaign also plans to offer a minority report to the convention calling for the convening of a mid-term party convention to review the party charter with an eye to including the kinds of reforms he advocates. Among others, he wants a rollback of the most recent congressional raises, limits of campaign contributions to the $100 he accepted this year and term limits for Congress.
In the meantime, he makes it clear that he will continue his "We the People" movement, in much the same fashion that Mr. Jackson has sought to sustain his own political influence and to advance his political objectives beyond this year's convention and election.