New political equations subtract Jesse Jackson

ROGER SIMON

April 07, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

Just before Bill Clinton was to enter Oriole Park on Monday, he was supposed to make a little side trip.

Clinton was to get off the MARC train, shake a few hands, join Kurt Schmoke, and then both of them were supposed to walk over and visit with Jesse Jackson.

Jackson was picketing outside the ballpark to get major league baseball to employ more blacks and women in executive positions.

The meeting between Clinton and Jackson never took place, however.

Clinton later told reporters he thought Jackson's protest was "fine", but Clinton never went over to give Jackson what Jackson wanted: one more moment in the spotlight.

Putting Jesse Jackson in the spotlight is no longer what leaders of the Democratic Party are about.

Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, were both members of the Democratic Leadership Council, a group formed after the 1984 presidential election and committed in part to reducing the influence of Jesse Jackson on Democratic politics.

The group believed that as long as the Democratic presidential nominee kowtowed to Jackson, the nominee would never capture enough votes in a general election to win.

The ideal candidate, the group believed, would be a moderate Southerner who favored the death penalty and didn't give a damn about Jesse.

Enter Bill Clinton.

Throughout his 1992 campaign, Clinton kept Jackson from being the one thing Jackson wanted to be: a factor.

And in the end Jackson was left with his CNN talk show and with being the "shadow" senator from Washington, D.C., which means being a lobbyist for D.C. statehood.

But even though statehood would add to the number of Democratic senators and congressmen, and even though Clinton and the Democratic Party have technically endorsed it, statehood has one real drawback for some: It almost certainly would mean Jackson would be elected to the U.S. Senate.

And this is where interest in the plan begins to wane on Capitol Hill.

Jackson could have run for the Senate from Illinois, where he had lived for years, but it might have been a tough race and Jackson did not want a tough race. (Carol Mosely-Braun, a black woman who did not mind a tough race, was elected to the job last year.)

So what is Jackson doing now? He has been seeking the executive directorship of the NAACP.

But this has turned out to be an unexpectedly tough race.(What would the NAACP really get out of the deal? Jackson's influence? The NAACP already has influence.) So Jackson is now letting it be known that he might withdraw rather than suffer the indignity of losing.

Jackson seems to be caught in a time warp. He is a civil rights leader in an era in which many black leaders have moved on to elective office.

Douglas Wilder is governor of Virginia, considering a run for the U.S. Senate. Kurt Schmoke is mayor of Baltimore, considering a run for governor and was mentioned in print last week as a possible nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It gave my mother something nice to talk about," Schmoke told me a few days ago, "but I'm taking myself out of contention for the court -- real fast."

Laughing as he did so, Schmoke wondered aloud how his stands on drug decriminalization, gun control and abortion rights would play during a nationally televised confirmation hearing.

But Schmoke gets serious when talk turns to the governor's race.

I asked him to respond to the charge that his chances of victory are diminished because voters are not that pleased with William Donald Schaefer and might not want another governor from Baltimore.

"I think the election is about the future and not the past," Schmoke said. "It's about how we affect the lives of citizens with government. There is a great deal of difference between myself and the current governor. We should not be painted with the same brush."

But who these days is asking Jesse Jackson about the next office he is running for?

Nobody.

Had Clinton made a point of dropping by and speaking to Jackson at Oriole Park on Monday it would have been like the old days: politicians seeking Jackson's counsel, asking his blessing, kissing his ring.

But the president "ran out of time", I was told. So he didn't drop by. And Schmoke didn't drop by.

And those old days may be over for good.

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