Bush meets with leaders of civil rights groups


WASHINGTON -- In a first for the administration, President Bush met yesterday with the representatives of the nation's stalwart civil rights organizations to discuss a range of issues that included minority contracts in the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast and the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court.

"It was an open and candid exchange of ideas with the president and some of his key advisors," NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon, who attended the meeting, said in a statement. "My colleagues and I are encouraged by the possibilities. We discussed real problems and workable solutions. There was a sense of urgency in the air. We have the potential to produce meaningful and measurable results."

Gordon was one of nine African-American leaders who met with Bush and top White House staff including Karl Rove, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. and domestic policy adviser Claude Allen.

They discussed what one aide to a participant called "issues of great concern to the African-American community," including the botched government response to Hurricane Katrina and Gulf Coast revitalization efforts, re-authorizing and strengthening the Voting Rights Act and economic issues such as unemployment and the cost of home heating oil.

The meeting also touched on broader issues, including the war in Iraq and the nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr., Bush's pick for the Supreme Court. The Congressional Black Caucus plans to announce today its opposition to Alito.

The closed-door meeting at the White House came two months after a private discussion Bush had at the White House with Gordon, who said he suggested Bush sit down with "African-American leaders that really were representatives of our community."

Gordon's Sept. 23 meeting with Bush had come days after civil rights leaders met at Howard University to air their frustrations about the Katrina response and strategize how to obtain the administration's attention.

Those were the same people who attended the meeting yesterday: Donna Brazile, Democratic political consultant; Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League; Ted Shaw, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; the Rev. William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention; Democratic Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Dorothy Height, president emerita of the National Council of Negro Women; Debra Lee, chief operating officer of Black Entertainment Television; and H. Patrick Swygert, the president of Howard University.

Bush has met before with high-profile African-Americans, including this year with about 20 black clergy and community leaders, but he has been criticized for not having a relationship with traditional civil rights organizations.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus have complained of being rebuffed by Bush throughout his presidency. They argued that other prominent blacks Bush has met with do not represent the concerns of the majority of African-Americans.

Former NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond have chastised Bush publicly for refusing their invitations to address the civil rights organization, claiming that Bush has been the first sitting president since the Depression to do so. Bush did meet with Mfume last year, shortly after Mfume announced his resignation from the civil rights organization.

kelly.brewington@baltsun.com julie.davis@baltsun.com

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