Mayoral votes spur momentum; New political promise for US blacks

The Philadelphia Democratic primary victory of black mayoral candidate W. Wilson Goode is but another event in a larger pattern of emerging black political power in the United States.

A decade ago, political apathy among urban blacks seemed likely to seal that minority into perpetual second-class status. Black turnout on election days was usually low; many who could have voted weren't registered.

Now, with Philadelphia apparently about to join Chicago in the ranks of major cities run by elected black officials, cities are offering new power bases for aspiring black leaders.

Early tangible results of this new black activism are mixed. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley was defeated in his California governorship bid last fall. And Detroit Mayor Coleman Young is reportedly angling to help former Vice-President Walter F. Mondale's bid for the Democratic nomination by altering Michigan's caucus primary date. Blacks are testing the waters for a black presidential candidacy. This has sparked sharp debates within Democratic ranks and the black community itself. A black voter-registration surge has astounded political professionals.

All this has been occurring in the context of a gradually more tolerant attitude among American whites on racial matters, whatever the local evidence in Chicago and Philadelphia of white fears about black control.

The Reagan administration and Republicans have gone into eclipse as far as many American blacks are il9l,0,9l,8p6concerned. President Reagan and his spokesmen are continually put on the defensive when black voter attitudes are mentioned. Only 10 percent of US blacks approve of Reagan's performance in office, according to the latest Gallup poll, compared with 42 percent approval among whites. Reagan's score with blacks is one-third of President Nixon's 30 percent at the same point during his third year in office. By contrast, 63 percent of blacks approved of President Eisenhower's performance in 1955, 93 percent approved of President Kennedy's third-year performance, and 51 percent approved of Carter's in his third year. Only 5 percent of US blacks identify themselves as Republicans.

The black vote at this time is a ''historic problem'' for Republicans, not just a Reagan phenomonon, says GOP strategist John Sears. Mr. Sears anticipates it will take three or four national elections before the GOP can significantly restore its position among blacks.

''The President, if he decides to run, will ignore no voter,'' says White House spokesman Larry Speakes about reports that the administration has largely written off blacks for '84.

Nonetheless, the White House has been courting the Hispanic vote far more than the black vote. The presidential pardon of convicted Watergate figure Eugene R. Martinez last week and Reagan's visit to Miami to celebrate Cuban Independence Day this weekend are but the latest in a series of actions that show an emphasis in White House priorities on US Southern border areas and Hispanics instead of on Northern industrial cities and urban blacks.

The Republicans clearly see something of a growth market for themselves among Hispanics. Many Hispanic Americans are quite conservative in their attitudes, notes Sears. ''Hispanics shouldn't be just a Democratic province,'' he says, adding that Hispanics by the year 2000 are going to have ''tremendous power'' politically.

The Reagan administration's courting of Hispanics, often viewed as political opponents of blacks, might be taken as another signal of Republican attitudes toward blacks, some GOP professionals worry.

This could add to the impression among blacks that they are disadvantaged by this administration's programs. Typically, 3 out of 5 blacks see housing opportunities for blacks hurt by Reagan administration proposals, and 2 of 3 see educational opportunities hurt, according to Data Black Public Opinion Polls, a black-owned survey group.

Lately, blacks have grown pessimistic about their personal financial prospects, despite the start of recovery, while whites have grown more optimistic. Since last November, the proportion of blacks that think they will be better off a year hence has fallen from 34 percent to 28 percent, while those fearing they will be worse off rose from 30 percent to 37 percent. Over the same period, the proportion of whites thinking they will be better off financially a year from now rose 6 points, from 41 to 47 percent - more than double the number of pessimists, which stayed at 21 percent, according to the Gallup poll.

Such attitudes appear to be borne out in April's labor statistics, which showed black jobless rates worsening.

Thus a number of forces have been combining to generate a new period of political activism among US blacks. The success of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington (D) and the Democratic mayoral primary victory of Philadelphia's Mr. Goode were the result of intensive black registration drives in those cities. These have added to the sense of black political momentum.

Some black leaders fear, however, that the minority might risk too much by pushing for a black presidential candidacy. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, most often mentioned as the potential candidate, is widely regarded in Democratic and black circles as too self-aggrandizing for the role. John E. Jacob, president of the National Urban League, warns that a black candidacy would be a ''retreat into emotional symbolism at the expense of realistic coalition efforts better suited to meeting black needs.''

''A black candidacy would increase black political participation,'' Mr. Jacob says. ''Yet the ultimate result of such a campaign could shatter black expectations.'' With first-ballot nominations now the rule at party conventions, blacks could prove ''neither a winner nor a kingmaker.''

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