NAACP convention wraps Clinton in an election-year hug Absence of Dole heightens reception for the president

July 11, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Chanting "Four more years!" thousands of NAACP activists gave President Clinton a warm election-year embrace yesterday as he addressed their 87th annual convention.

An air of excitement surrounded Clinton's visit from the moment aides affixed the presidential seal to the rostrum until he left the convention hall after a 47-minute speech and an extended round of hand-shaking.

In a speech so conversational in tone that it was more like a chat, Clinton called for racial healing and said the recent black-church burnings in the South were a "symbol of everything that is wrong" in America.

"We need to learn to work together and be together. If we do, there is no stopping this country," the president said.

The impact of Clinton's appearance on the nation's largest civil rights group was heightened by the failure of Bob Dole, his likely Republican challenger, to come to the convention. Staffers said Dole had a "major scheduling conflict" on Tuesday, when the NAACP leaders had hoped he would speak; he instead addressed a group of Republicans in Richmond and then attended the baseball All-Star game in Philadelphia.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, alluding to Dole's absence, called Clinton "one who recognizes the need to be president of all Americans one who is not afraid to talk about the vexing issue of race one who knows it's OK to come home to the NAACP."

Chairwoman Myrlie-Evers Williams vowed that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is nonpartisan but sides with liberal Democrats on most issues, would register 1 million voters by November. Eighty-two percent of black voters supported Clinton in 1992.

Clinton said he would veto a congressional repeal of the assault-weapons ban (already passed by the House) or the "Brady law" that establishes a waiting period for handgun purchases.

He urged Congress to send him a 90-cent increase in the minimum wage approved this week by the Senate "so I can sign that bill and we can give people a raise."

The president said he would work to curb juvenile crime, expand educational opportunity, "mend, not end" affirmative action, and effect "the right kind of welfare reform" -- which he described as "Tough on work, yes; tough on kids, no way."

Clinton praised the NAACP for stressing youth recruitment, saying "it may be the lasting legacy of this period of reform of the NAACP that you brought the young blood of America back into this organization."

Julian Bond, an NAACP board member, said Clinton set a "nice, light tone." He added that "had Dole come, I don't think the reaction to the president would have been as partisan.

"Citizen Dole said, 'I don't care about you,' and you're left with the inference this fellow cares," Bond said.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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