NASHVILLE, TENN — NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Housing Secretary Jack F. Kemp spoke to convention delegates of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People yesterday, but he said the gist of his message was meant for Republican Party members.
"I want to say this to my party," Mr. Kemp said before about 1,500 delegates. "It is a disgrace to America to leave our cities inhabited with hopelessness and despair.
"How tragic it would be if America wins peace around the world but loses its soul at home.
"The soul of America is how we treat the poor. The soul of America is how we treat the homeless. The soul of America is how we treat the blacks, whites and Hispanics who have been left behind."
Mr. Kemp, a frequent critic of his boss' urban policies, was well-received, with one member of the audience yelling, "Kemp for President."
When asked why President Bush was the only candidate who failed to attend the NAACP convention, Mr. Kemp said Mr. Bush could not accept every extended invitation. But Mr. Kemp also said the Republican Party should seek the black vote.
"It's not important for African-Americans to go seek out the Republicans' views on certain issues," Mr. Kemp said. "It's important for the Republicans to go to blacks and compete for their vote."
He added that while securing the black vote was important to Mr. Bush, "he can win the election without the black vote, but he cannot govern the country by leaving them out of the coalition."
Because of his dogmatic support of urban renewal programs and initiatives that create homeownership opportunities for the poor -- many times clashing with party allies -- Mr. Kemp is perhaps the only Republican who could have been received so warmly by the overwhelmingly Democratic NAACP.
"He is one of the few people in national office who understands our heartbeat and who walks with us," Executive Director Benjamin L. Hooks said in Mr. Kemp's introduction. "He is one of the only ones who wants a politics of inclusion, not exclusion."
And yesterday, even as the president faces a tough re-election campaign, Mr. Kemp spared no punches, criticizing the Bush administration for welfare policies that do not encourage people to work, for refusing to invite people of all races and classes to discuss social policies, and for allowing the poor to get poorer.
"When people don't have anything, they don't respect anyone else's property," he said. "It is a recipe for a riot if you don't own anything but the shirt on your back."
Like most of the speakers who appeared at the six-day convention, Mr. Kemp stressed that the civil rights movement must expand to pursue economic empowerment for all people. And he complimented the platform of Democratic nominee Gov. Bill Clinton for including a plan for making loans available to small businesses in inner cities.