Why did George Bush decline an invitation to address the National Urban League? That's the No. 1 topic among the more than 15,000 delegates to the league's 78th national conference here. The vice-president, the apparent Republican presidential candidate, has missed an opportunity to reach out to blacks and show that his party cares, says John E. Jacob, the league's president and chief executive officer.
Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, the nominee of the Democratic Party, was scheduled to speak last night in the first of a convention series of public political forums.
Mr. Bush had been invited to state the Republican case, but Bush spokesman Mark Goodin said a scheduling conflict prevented the vice-president from accepting. He said that Bush planned to spend this week examining potential running mates and was to give a major foreign policy speech in Chicago today.
``George Bush knows he has a black problem in 1988. Only about 17 percent of blacks think Republicans care about them,'' Mr. Jacob told the convention. ``Polls say that nearly half of the black Republicans don't think their party cares. George Bush has to change that - and fast.''
Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, prominently mentioned as a possible Bush running mate is to address the league tonight. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is scheduled to speak tomorrow morning.
``Jesse has stimulated the interest of black voters in the presidential election,'' Jacob said in an appearance on ABC-TV's ``Good Morning America,'' ``but each candidate must attract black votes on his own merits. The Jackson campaign has shown black people that their votes do count.''
Jacob said Bush had a good civil rights record while in Congress but has not sufficiently explained his positions on Reagan administration policies on such issues as voting rights and affirmative action.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with this year's convention theme, ``Working Together to Make a Difference: Rights, Responsibilities, Results,'' the Urban League has set a target date of the year 2000 to achieve a truly color-blind society in America. To that end, Jacob has detailed a seven-point agenda.
Jacob's seven-point policy for black parity by the year 2000 includes these priorities:
Jobs or job training for every disadvantaged person.
Quality education to create opportunities for all disadvantaged youth.
A welfare system that develops decent living standards as well as education, training, and productive jobs for the poor.
A massive program to end the crisis in affordable housing.
A greater effort to counter the increasing problem of drugs.
Equitable access to quality health care for those who have no health insurance.
Aggressive policies to protect civil rights.
These goals are being discussed in Detroit on the heels of a pre-convention report about Michigan, cosponsored by Michigan State University and the Michigan Council of Urban League Executives. It was modeled after the National Urban League's annual report, ``State of the Black Nation.''
The Michigan study deplored the ``growing'' unemployment gap between blacks and whites, the increasing number of murders of blacks, and decreasing employment opportunities for the state's blacks. It praised the decline of the ``use of deadly force'' by Detroit police against blacks.
This study recommended most of the Jacob agenda, plus a ban on handguns and a guaranteed income ``at least equal to the federal poverty level.''
The league is also scheduled to announce an all-out campaign against AIDS, a rapidly growing health concern among blacks. Other key issues under discussion are black economic progress and the rescue of black youth from poor education, crime, drugs, and joblessness.
Workshops were scheduled to cover many of these issues.