Mayor W. Wilson Goode often holds press conferences in a room where portraits of mayors, from Edward Shippen to Frank Rizzo, adorn the walls. None is more historic than Mayor Goode's will be, when it is done. It will be the first portrait of a black mayor to grace those walls in Philadelphia's City Hall. The frame around the political picture that put Mr. Goode in office included an active black voting population; a coalition of labor, business, minorities, and whites; and Goode's campaign emphasis on his pragmatism and managerial skills. Major elements of his approach are fiscal restraint, social concern, and commitment to a party that some opponents say is out of step with the times.
It worked for Goode in 1983. But voter registration efforts, coalition politics, and policy debates with President Reagan did not work for fellow Democrat Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election. And in the aftermath of the Republican steamroller, both Democrats and blacks (90 percent voted for Mr. Mondale) are reassessing their political fortunes.
``I think the basic problem has been finding the right person to communicate a message,'' says Goode as he sits at a large table in his office, work in front of him. ``What the Republicans have been able to do with Ronald Reagan is find a president, a leader, who can communicate a message and a concept to the American people that [they] can hang their hat on.''
Some Republicans suggest that blacks turn from the Democratic Party and look at their ``winning'' party. Some Democrats seem ready to soft-pedal the traditional Democratic empathy toward minorities and labor in order to lure younger voters, particularly the much-vaunted ``yuppies.''
But Goode's tactic is to expand rather than abandon commitments to women, minorities, and blue-collar workers. As mayor of the fourth-largest city in the country, and one who is getting high marks after his first year in office, Wilson Goode talks confidently about his own political coalition.
Goode, who is holding his first elective office, has a different background from some other black mayors. Harold Washington of Chicago initially rose through the city's political machine. Atlanta's Mayor Andrew Young cut his teeth in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But, like Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, who had a career in that city's Police Department, Goode came to his current post through experience in nonelective city government.
He was head of the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement, director of the state's Public Utility Commission, and served as managing director of the city during the term of Mayor William J. Green. This practical experience was a major asset in Goode's courting of business backers during his mayoral campaign.
``I think the diverse coalition now is stronger than it was last year,'' he says. ``I think [Philadelphians] have seen that you can run a city like this with diversity. . . . If the people of the city don't feel as if you are their mayor -- working for them, working for their interests -- then the city is less than a whole.''
That can be translated to national politics, Goode says, but it does not mean losing sight of the special needs of certain groups.
When a country ``ignores those who feel closed out and shut out'' and those who are ``living on the edge, and living at risk,'' those people will one day simply rebel against the system, Goode says. The way to preserve democracy, he adds, is to let it do what it is intended to do: give people a chance.
``The American dream is not a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence and two cars and someone driving into town every day to a $50,000-a-year job,'' says Goode. ``The American dream is that if I am willing to work, then give me a job. Let me work and earn my keep and take care of my family . . . and maybe live in my row house in Philadephia, in the Bronx, in Detroit, Chicago. Give me an opportunity to use my skills, to use my brain, to use my muscles.'' These are words that could have come right out of President Reagan's Oval Office. But Goode insists that Republican policies, such as the budget cuts that were proposed by the President in early February, can hamper this ``American dream.''
``I think that if we cut those opportunities off, that people have nowhere to turn, no hope. And the Democratic Party has always been a beacon of hope for all those people.''
He denies that the Democratic Party is out of the mainstream or too far left for the average voter. He concedes that the presidential election showed that the issues and concerns of blacks are not necessarily the issues and concerns on the minds of the majority of voters in the United States. But the blacks' agenda should not be put on the back burner, he insists.
``There has to be an understanding that the people who are affected by public housing are not black people only,'' Goode says. ``The people who are affected by unemployment are not black people only, the people who need job training are not black people only. . . . There is an agenda that cuts across race and age and sex.''
Goode is not convinced that, as some Republicans say, there is a realignment of voters away from the Democratic Party and to the GOP. He sees 1988, when the Republican candidate won't be Ronald Reagan, as a test year.
``I think we saw enough differences in the voting patterns -- voting for Reagan and returning a [Democrat Joseph] Biden in Delaware to the Senate. Voting heavily for Reagan in New Jersey and returning [Democratic Sen.] Bill Bradley.''
Goode says that the Rev. Jesse Jackson's race for the Democratic nomination was very important, though he endorsed Mondale over Mr. Jackson in Pennsylvania's primary.
``Jackson raised a consciousness . . . about an agenda that people must address.'' His candidacy may have made some people uncomfortable, Goode says, but the two-party system will never be the same again.
``There are no doors closed anymore. [Parties] will look for women, they'll look for blacks, they'll look for Hispanics, Asians, everything. [Jackson] and Geraldine Ferraro opened up the doors for nontraditional groups to be a part of this whole process.''
The road to empowerment for these groups is not without bumps. ``I think there is still some resistance as to how much input they ought to have in each party,'' says Goode. But as more and more ``nontraditionals'' take part in both parties, it will become more acceptable and a ``regular part'' of the system.
One in a series of occasional articles on US black mayors.