Gore hits hot-button issues in speech tailored to NAACP

He unveils Africa fund, vows to end profiling

July 16, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Wooing a predictably friendly crowd on his campaign circuit, Vice President Al Gore announced to NAACP members yesterday a new $350 million African investment fund and said that if he's elected president, he will end racial profiling.

Gore's remarks on the last day of the NAACP's annual convention touched on such hot-button issues as gun control, hate crimes and racial profiling, in which police stop or search people based on race.

"If I am elected president, ending racial profiling will be the first civil rights act of the next century," Gore said. "Driving while intoxicated is a national crime. But driving while black is a natural condition."

The speech prompted effusive cheers from a crowd of about 3,000 at a midtown hotel. The event was the last major gathering of the 90th annual convention of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- an event attended by more than 14,000 that has, not surprisingly, featured a slew of Democrats.

Of Gore, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said, "He is no stranger to this association."

Gore, who also attended last year's NAACP convention in Atlanta, delivered remarks decidedly tailored to an African-American audience yesterday.

At the outset, he said he planned to give his newborn grandson a lifetime membership in the NAACP. And he praised the U.S. women's soccer team for their victory in the world cup finals, saying, "How about that Briana Scurry," referring to the team's black goalie.

Many gains have been made for black people in the NAACP's 90 years, but African-Americans remain disadvantaged, Gore said.

"If you join with me in seeking the presidency, I promise you that the gains we've made in the 20th century will not be lost," he said.

He pledged to "lead the fight passing a federal hate-crime law," make law enforcement agencies more racially diverse and close the gap in school funding between poor and affluent districts.

And, he said, "Trade with Africa is good for America."

The New Africa Infrastructure Fund, finalized in recent weeks, is expected to create 7,000 jobs and $50 million in annual revenue for companies in sub-Saharan Africa, Gore said. It is an offshoot of President Clinton's trip to Africa last March.

The fund -- aimed at improving infrastructure, helping women and developing rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa -- is the largest created by the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a privately funded government agency that focuses on developing countries.

"These funds are geared toward any project that will make it more attractive for other folks to come in," said Jeremy Butler, a spokesman for OPIC. "This can have a huge effect."

At the advice of Congress or the president, or on its own initiative, OPIC has set up 26 such funds worth $3.3 billion, Butler said. Most projects that received funding focus on modernizing power supplies, building transportation links and improving health conditions in developing countries, he said.

The New Africa fund will be managed by the Durham, N.C.-based Sloan Financial Group and Taylor-DeJongh Inc. in Washington, which focus on investment in Africa, he said.

In other news at the convention, Mfume announced yesterday a partnership with Black Entertainment Television Inc. that will include public service announcements promoting NAACP memberships and will center BET shows around NAACP issues.

As the convention wrapped up, it seemed only fitting that Gore was there.

Though the NAACP is officially nonpartisan, the convention was dominated by such Democratic politicians, appointees and friends as former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

In introducing Gore, Laura Blackburne, a member of the NAACP's fund-raising arm, prompted applause when she said, "I'd like to introduce the president -- I mean, I keep slipping, the vice president."

Republicans typically are few and far between at NAACP gatherings. This year, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, and Oklahoma Republican Rep. J. C. Watts declined invitations.

When asked about the Democrat-heavy convention agenda, Mfume stressed that invitations went out months ago and that he talked at length with Bush's aides to arrange a visit. But, according to NAACP spokesman John C. White, the invitations to the Republicans went out late.

"We meet with our friends on issues that are important to us regularly," said Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington, D.C., branch.

But, he added that some Republicans have voting records favorable to NAACP causes. "It's not the man, it's the plan," he said.

Pub Date: 7/16/99

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