Blacks content to step to sidelines for Clinton "We have to do whatever it takes," says one delegate, to get Bush out of the White House.

July 15, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

NEW YORK -- Blacks have stepped aside. Once the darlings of the Democratic Party, black delegates and politicians have agreed to move to the sidelines while Bill Clinton courts white suburbanites.

Anything, they say, to get George Bush out of the White House.

"I don't feel slighted," said Richard Comer, deputy mayor of Gary, Ind. "Being in government, one of the realities that you have to deal with is that you can't govern unless you're elected. There's such a dire need right now for a leadership that has a sensitivity to a broader base of Americans that we have to do whatever it takes."

His sentiments were echoed, almost word for word, by many black delegates at the Democratic National Convention. The word is that blacks would forgo their traditional agenda now to elect a president they could talk to -- and influence -- later.

"The sense and the mood has been to move to the middle, because that's where the majority of the voters are," said Sheryl Williams of New Mexico. That's fine with her, Ms. Williams said, "if that's what it takes to get to the White House."

To Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the move to the center is a sensible one that "includes African-Americans, not excludes them."

Although a couple of notable black Democrats have been slow to back Mr. Clinton -- Jesse Jackson gave a less-than-cheerful endorsement last weekend, and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder came through only yesterday -- most African-Americans at the convention have pledged their support.

"I want to bring the Democratic Party back to the White House," said civil rights leader Rosa Parks, who attended a meeting of the Democratic National Committee's Black Caucus. "I'm concerned about being free and equal and doing away with racism and racial segregation."

At past conventions, Democratic presidential candidates have spent considerably more time and effort wooing black delegates and, through them, voters. While Mr. Clinton has not ignored the black community, he has made it clear he would not come close to the courting of years past.

"It appears as though we're being pushed out," said Gerald White, a Clinton delegate from Tampa, Fla. However, he tempered his remarks -- and pledged his vote -- saying, "Clinton is making an effort to assure us that we're being taken care of."

And with Ronald H. Brown, who is black, at the head of the Democratic Party, black delegates said they felt even more comfortable that issues important to them won't be ignored as Mr. Clinton embraces the ideological center and tries to recapture Reagan Democrats.

"The notion of bridging the gap between people of color and whites, between urban and suburban is absolutely necessary," said Grantland Johnson of Sacramento, Calif. "Clinton is the only Democrat in recent times who can win the Bubba vote and the Brother vote.

"I think most African-American delegates are pragmatists and know that we've got to win," he said. "

"It is better to negotiate with a winner than to play tennis or golf with a loser," said Newark, N.J., Mayor Sharpe James.

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