Black Reagan appointees try to overcome identity crisis
Boston — Blacks appointed to federal and White House jobs are finding it not only difficult to sell President Ronald Reagan to the black community, they are having trouble selling themselves to black people.
They face essentially two obstacles:
* They are unknown. Except in their own locality, black Republicans are not household names -- now even in the black community where leaders are far more apt to be Democrats.
* They are working for a President unpopular with blacks -- only 10 percent voted for Mr. Reagan in 1980.
Nevertheless, President Reagan has tapped at least 24 blacks for office, according to Catherine Iino, editor of Focus, the newsletter of the Joint Center for political Studies, nonprofit black think tank in Washington, DC.
Critics charge this is a small number compared to 38 by former President Carter after six months in office. Others, however, say this is more than most blacks expected from a man elected without their support.
Despite his unpopularity among blacks, President Reagan is catering to the black community for future backing. A series of summer activities has put the President and his black appointees up for public appraisal:
* Mr. Reagan addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) convention last June.
* The highest ranking black in the US government -- Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Samuel R. Pierce Jr., -- spoke to both the NAACP and the National Urban League.
* Vice President George Bush and cabinet level members of the administration paraded before black organizations pleading the Reagan cause.
So far, however, black response to these activities has leaned to the negative.
President Reagan's appearance before the NAACP "does not mean that we of the NAACP have been persuaded to his point of view," says Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director. "Our opposition to his policies must necessarily continue. We hope, however, that we can always keep the door open for communication exchanges."
Eloise Benson of Denver gave a typical delegate response, "It was worth my time to see and hear the President. He offered us a pacifier. I will see what develops."
Neither the NAACP nor the National Urban League received Secretary Pierce warmly. The National Urban League did not interrupt his speech once for applause.
Reagan's black appointees are learning a basic lesson in political savvy, black style: being with a winner, even the President of the United States, does not necessarily mean winning the approval of black people. Critics charge they are too close to the President, are out of step with most black attitudes, and are out of step with most black attitudes, and are in positions which have little significant power.
To counter this criticism, black appointees are going on the offensive -- buttonholing black people to acquaint them with what they are doing.
Thelma Duggin, deputy special assistant to the President in the Office of Public Liason, "promotes" the administration with blacks, youth, and volunteer organizations. During such meetings as the recent Black Women's Summit and the National Urban League conference in Washington, DC, she was hostess to a GOP hospitality suite that opened its doors and showcased black office holders to visiting delegates.
The appointees insist they are not tokens.
Mr. Reagan has named blacks to a variety of offices, "most of them nontraditional," some in key decisionmaking positions as high as the cabinet level, says Melvin H. Bradley, brought in from California to become senior adviser on urban affairs to the President in the White House.
"Unfortunately, this has been a slow process, but more blacks will be named to office, some at high levels -- commissioners and assistant secretaries," says Mr. Bradley, who worked with Mr. Reagan when he was governor of California."
Another key Reagan appointee is Arthur Teele Jr., who heads the Urban Mass Transportation Administration for the US Department of Transportation. Like Mr. Bradley, Mr. Teele lacks visibility in the eyes of black people. To many black people he is suspect because he campaigned for the "wrong candidate." A Florida native and rising young Washington, D.C., attorney, he led the Reagan-Bush efforts to woo blacks and also chaired the administration's transition team in the Transportation Department.
Calling his position "a very sensitive job, a very good job" -- he directs a administration does not believe in tokenism," Mr. Teele says. "It places people in offices, gives them responsibility, and more importantly, gives them authority to carry out their jobs."
Blacks on the Reagan White House team include Thaddeus P. Garrett, an ordained minister, as special assistant to Vice President Bush, and Dr. Toye Lewis Byrd, assistant to Mr. Bradley, and three other aides. To many fellow blacks, however, they are "too close" to President Reagan.
"Rank and file black people are learning that no one person can do it all for blacks. Black people are learning the importance of working inside an administration, even a Republican one, rather than being on the outside. Blacks are needed in both parties.
When things happen -- more jobs, successful businesses -- attitudes will change," Mrs. Duggin says. "The rank and file of black people are courteous -- they would rather see us here than absent. They await progress on the bottom line, economic gains."