Black Caucus hopes to increase its numbers in US House. Incumbents confident; but to win new seats, white votes are needed
Boston — Many black voters are more concerned with the election of more blacks to Congress than they are with the presidential election. The Congressional Black Caucus currently has just 23 members in Congress. Until black candidates are able to attract more white voters, however, they are not likely to win additional seats in Congress.
Blacks make up about 12 percent of the population in the United States, but they hold only 4 percent of the seats in Congress - all Democrats and all in the House, says Linda Williams, a research specialist of the Joint Center for Political Studies, a black think tank in Washington, D.C. Only 1.5 percent of the nation's elected officials are black, according to the center's 1988 listing of black elected officials.
This year only one new black member seems assured, Dr. Williams says. Donald Payne, a Democrat from Newark, N.J., is favored over his Republican foe, Michael Webb. At stake is the seat of veteran Democrat Peter Rodino, who is stepping down after representing this predominantly black district for many years.
Two years ago four new black members were elected to Congress from districts previously represented by whites. Two came from districts electing a black to the House for the first time - Kweisi Mfume of Maryland and Michael Espy of Mississippi.
Civil rights activist John Lewis defeated popular Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond, who is also black, in a bitter race to take a seat once held by Andrew Young, the current mayor of Atlanta. Mr. Young gave up that seat in 1977 to accept appointment as US ambassador to the United Nations under President Carter.
Floyd Flake won election to a Queens seat. He defeated Alton Walden Jr., a black who had outpolled him in an earlier special election to fill a seat left vacant by the death of the incumbent.
Two blacks, Faye Williams in Louisiana and Ronald Crutcher in Ohio, who both sought election in 1986, but lost, are campaigning again for Congress.
Mr. Crutcher, a Dayton businessman, is the underdog in his second attempt to unseat Tony Hall, seeking reelection to his sixth term.
Ms. Williams is seen as a possible winner against Rep. Clyde Holloway, a Republican who defeated her in a close contest two years ago under Louisiana's unique runoff system. (Candidates from all political leanings run in the Louisiana primary with the top two hopefuls pitted against each other in the runoff. They are competing in a district that is 85 percent Democratic and 60 percent white.)
Many blacks are elected to Congress from predominantly black districts. Only 16 congressional districts have black majorities. Currently blacks represent all but two of these areas, Mr. Rodino's district in New Jersey and New Orleans in Louisiana, Dr. Williams says.
In the September issue of Focus, the Joint Center's monthly newsletter, she wrote:
``A few more majority-black congressional districts will probably be created after redistricting in 1992. Nevertheless, it is clear that for the caucus to grow, more nonblacks must begin to vote for black congressional candidates, as they did in the cases of Reps. Ron Dellums in California and Alan Wheat in Missouri, whose districts are more than 75 percent white.''
In addition, more blacks must register and vote, and run for office, says a report by a special congressional task force headed by Rep. Mervyn Dymally (D) of California.