Blacks Go for Higher Political Office. US MINORITY GAINS. Era of civil rights protests is over; today's younger leaders march to a different drum
BOSTON — A new breed of black leader is emerging on the American scene. Although civil rights continues to be a major theme, today's leaders are seeking political clout. ``New blacks are moving front stage; the days of Dr. King and leaders of the civil rights movement of the '60s are pass'e,'' says Eddie Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black think tank in Washington, D.C.
``Blacks are not looking for seats at lunch counters; they are seeking seats in the Senate, in governors' mansions, and even in the White House.
``No one leader can speak for all blacks today,'' Dr. Williams says. ``Politicians are moving ahead faster than other black leaders because they are more visible and more accessible to the ordinary black person.''
For instance, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young in Georgia and Lt. Gov. Douglas Wilder in Virginia, both Democrats, are running for governor.
In the House of Representatives, William Gray III of Pennsylvania, former chairman of the House Budget Committee, now chairs the House Democratic Caucus, which makes him the fourth-ranking Democrat there.
But a nagging question remains: Can blacks rise above the rank of mayor or congressman?
Moreover, since 1968, the year in which Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, black voters have consistently favored Democratic presidential candidates, and Republicans have won four of those five elections.
The Bush administration has its black officials: Louis Sullivan, president of the Morehouse College School of Medicine, is secretary of Health and Human Services. Frederick McClure is the presidential assistant for legislative affairs. William Lucas, a Democrat who turned Republican to run for governor of Michigan in 1986, directs the civil rights division of the Justice Department. Anna Perez is Barbara Bush's press secretary.
Politicians to watch, Dr. Williams says, include Democratic national chairman Ronald Brown; Mayor Sharpe James and US Rep. Donald Payne, both of Newark, N.J.; Mayor Lottie Shackleford of Little Rock, Ark.; William Burney Jr., the first black mayor of Augusta, Maine; and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr.
City Councilman Daniel Tabor of Inglewood, Calif., still in his 20s, symbolizes the new breed of eager, young politician.
His advice to black candidates is: ``Cut the demagogy. Identify your goals. Let people know where you stand. Then live up to your role, responsibility, and accountability as a public official.''
Blacks see mayors and congressmen as their strongest leaders. They may rise from the college ranks, like Richard Arrington Jr., the mayor of Birmingham, Ala., who was a professor, or from the angry civil rights roots, like US Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta. MAYOR Burney of Augusta, Maine, a city with only a scattering of blacks, frankly admits: ``I was elected because people remembered me as a basketball star. Younger people voted for me because I have maintained my interest in youth.'' But then he adds, ``My ambition is to become governor.''
In Newark, Mayor James and Mr. Payne replaced legends. James defeated 16-year incumbent Kenneth Gibson, one of the first black mayors of a major US city. Payne succeeded US Rep. Peter Rodino Jr., who retired after 40 years in Congress.
Both James and Payne are helping to lead a renaissance in Newark.
But politics is not the only sector with emerging black leaders. Ramona Edelin, who succeeded the late M.Carl Holman as president of the National Urban Coalition, was the catalyst for the most publicized ``current issue'' among blacks: whether or not to call themselves African Americans. Since this proposal was made, many blacks have begun to use the title. The new designation and a ``new black agenda'' will be discussed at a summit meeting of black leaders this spring in Washington.
``Quality living in urban communities is the goal of many grass-roots leaders,'' Dr. Edelin says. ``Some concentrate on business enterprise, others on good schools, and others on job training. Financial security is the one goal for blacks who have had to face this issue all their lives. Black businesses need venture and growth funds.
``Good education is a must. Our urban youths are dropping out of schools,'' Edelin says. ``Many high school graduates don't qualify for entry-level jobs in today's industry.''
Ronald Homer sets an example for blacks to follow in the business world, Edelin says. He left a secure job in New York City in 1982 to become president of the new Boston Bank of Commerce, which emerged from the ashes of a failing Unity National Bank.
Under Mr. Homer it now ranks No. 13 among the nation's minority-controlled (black, Hispanic, and women) banks, according to Black Enterprise magazine.
Ron Brown speaks of the value of blacks to the political parties. ``Clearly political power is our top priority,'' he says. ``Minorities are critical to both parties in today's political arena. Clearly the Republican policy is to entice minorities. Democrats, however, can be the unifying force in the nation. We just have to continue to reach out and be inclusive.''