California blacks say they'll vote for Jesse - despite the odds

Right now, if you wanted to donate money or volunteer some work for the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's presidential campaign in California, you would find neither address nor phone number for it.

The Jackson campaign does not show the orthodox benchmarks of political strength.

Most of California's foremost black politicians are supporting someone else. Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, for example, has publicly endorsed Walter Mondale , and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown is backing the native-son bid of Sen. Alan Cranston.

But if feeling is running high for Mr. Jackson among the black public, says Ted Watkins, who heads the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, none of those endorsements will matter.

That is how feeling is running now, Mr. Watkins avers. ''If Jesse's on the ballot, I'll vote for him.'' And he reckons the same to be true throughout ''the black nation.''

It is true for black businessman Barry Baszile, who lives in the upper-income , seaside Los Angeles suburb of Palos Verdes. ''I'll vote for Reverend Jackson in the primary, absolutely. . . . He deserves that support just for achieving the stature he has as a black candidate.''

In black Los Angeles, there has been much good feeling about the Jackson candidacy since the presidential candidate traveled to Syria and mediated the release of a downed US Navy pilot, Lt. Robert O. Goodman Jr.

Not that anyone has become convinced he can win the presidency now, or even the Democratic nomination. Rather, blacks generally feel good about the distinction and respect he has brought to a black candidacy.

''I was one who didn't feel it was a serious candidacy,'' says Elbert Hudson, president of a savings-and-loan institution and a black supporter of Senator Cranston's bid. ''Now I do. . . . Now he's in a position to have a positive influence on the outcome of the convention.''

Mr. Hudson's view is widespread among voters, according to Rod Wright, a campaign consultant and executive director of the Black-American Political Association of California.

''Even among black folk,'' he says, ''there was a feeling that this preacher from Chicago was a good talker, but what could he do?'' The mission to Syria boosted the credibility and prestige of Mr. Jackson's bid significantly, according to Mr. Wright.

The talk at the cleaners, the grocery store, and the barber shop in his neighborhood, Wright says, indicates that Jackson has won new respect.

Most Jackson supporters seem to feel much as Mr. Baszile does: that the real value of the Jackson campaign is to pave the way for future black presidential contenders.

No matter how many votes Jackson wins in state primaries, the status he achieves with feats like his serious handling of the Syrian mission will stay with him, Baszile says, and eventually will be ''passed on to another black candidate, maybe in 10 years.''

Meanwhile, Jackson still doesn't have a campaign office here. This means California is not participating in a series of Jackson fund-raising parties around the country this weekend.

One reason the California campaign has been slow to start, according Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D) of Los Angeles, is that the state has a late primary. It comes in early June. And the organization doesn't want to spend its money and enthusiasm too soon.

Assemblywoman Waters is in charge of the Jackson campaign in California. Despite volunteers and contributors ''coming out of the woodwork,'' she says, ''we have to be careful not to be swept away.'' A ''rainbow coalition'' office with a full-time coordinator will open later this month.

As for Jackson's lack of support from much of the black political establishment, she says, ''The so-called black leadership is not that important to this campaign. This is a grass-roots campaign. It's something new in politics. We break all the rules in this campaign.''

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