- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

A predominantly Democratic civil rights panel, which is issuing a report today critical of Republican Govs. Jeb Bush and George W. Bush on affirmative action, is taking aim next at New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which includes one of President Clinton's key advisers on race, is preparing a report that is expected to be highly critical of Mr. Giuliani's handling of the city police department. Mr. Giuliani is the likely Republican opponent of first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the New York Senate race.
A memo from the office of Chairman Mary Frances Berry on April 6 alerted commissioners to be prepared to discuss a draft report on the New York police at the agency's regular meeting on Friday. Commission spokesman David Aronson said the panel hopes to publish the report soon.
The move to criticize Mr. Giuliani comes after The Washington Times reported on Wednesday that the panel was preparing to issue a report condemning the race-neutral programs of Jeb Bush in Florida and George W. Bush in Texas in higher education. George W. Bush is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
The agency voted 6-2 in secret last week to approve the affirmative action report. A source close to the commission said both reports are politically motivated to make high-profile Republican candidates look bad in an election year.
"First it was the Bushes, now it's Giuliani's turn," the source said.
The commission heard testimony on New York civil rights issues last May, but is preparing to release its report just as polls show Mr. Giuliani faltering against Mrs. Clinton because of his handling of police shootings of unarmed minorities in the city.
Key Republicans in Congress, which controls funding for the agency, criticized the commission last week for engaging in partisan politics. But Republican Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida, chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee with oversight duties, said it's unlikely Congress would cut funding or try to restructure the agency. The White House and Congress divide the appointments evenly.
Mr. Canady told Miss Berry in a letter yesterday that the commission had set "a new low" by voting to condemn Jeb Bush's policies without first contacting the governor's office.
"I am concerned that the commission's rush to gather votes … was designed … to launch a partisan attack on the policies of Governor Jeb Bush and Governor George W. Bush," Mr. Canady wrote.
Mr. Aronson declined to say whether the commission, which has six Democratic and two Republican appointees, is playing politics.
"The person you need to ask is the chair," Mr. Aronson said.
Miss Berry's office has not returned repeated phone messages. But she told Jeb Bush in a letter late last week that the agency's criticism of his "One Florida" initiative which would end racial preferences in university admissions and state contracting is not politically inspired.
"The commission has always rejected political pressures toward influencing the agency's work on civil rights matters," she wrote.
But Miss Berry is girding for just such criticism. At her request, the commission's public affairs office has prepared a list of likely media questions for her at today's news conference, including a query about Commissioner Christopher Edley, who advised Mr. Clinton on race and now serves as an adviser to the presidential campaign of Vice President Al Gore, the opponent of George Bush.
"Given Commissioner Edley's position as an adviser to VP Gore, how could this statement not be viewed as a political assault by Democrats on a Republican Presidential candidate?" Mr. Aronson wrote as a hypothetical question for Miss Berry.
He also proposed this follow-up question for the chairman: "Doesn't issuing such a statement without conducting any sort of hearing or allowing for discussion undercut its credibility and the credibility of the commission?"
Another suggested question for Miss Berry from her staff is this: With minority admissions at the University of Texas-Austin and Florida State University equal to or above levels when affirmative action was in place, why does the panel consider those states' current policies worse?
Mr. Aronson advised Miss Berry: "I doubt the press, with the exception of our friends at The Washington Times, will be quite this nasty."
Both Florida and Texas have plans that guarantee a certain percentage of top high school seniors admission to state universities regardless of race or test scores. In Texas, the top 10 percent of high school seniors qualify; Florida takes the top 20 percent.
Jeb Bush told the commission in a letter last week that minority enrollment at Florida State this year is up 18 percent without using racial preferences.
The Florida governor sent a copy of his letter to Mr. Canady, a move that was not lost on Miss Berry.
"I am aware that our oversight committee chairmen, to whom you copied your letter, wield the power of the purse over this agency," she wrote to Jeb Bush. But she added that the majority of the commission would issue its report against him "without fear or favor."
Republican appointees Russell Redenbaugh and Carl Anderson voted against the report, which criticizes the Florida program as an "unprovoked stealth acknowledgment that … segregation will never change."
Mr. Canady told the commissioners in his letter yesterday that their rejection of Jeb Bush's offer to meet with them "raises serious questions about the basic fairness of the commission's action."
"It fits into an unfortunate pattern of irresponsible conduct at the commission," Mr. Canady wrote. "The commission's credibility … can only be further eroded by actions which evidence such contempt for the standards of thoughtful, informed, open and fair deliberation."
The commission's political imbalance is due partly to staggered six-year terms and to the retirement of two Republican appointees in 1999. Congress traditionally alternates the political affiliation of its appointees; thus Republicans are replaced by Democrats and vice versa.
The commission has no enforcement powers. It was established in 1957 to monitor and report on the status of civil rights.

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