- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2000

DES MOINES, Iowa Vice President Al Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley went after the minority vote with a vengeance last night, promising to outdo each other in appointing blacks and Latinos to high government posts, revitalizing affirmative-action programs and ending racial profiling in law enforcement.
The Democratic presidential candidates' sixth debate, sponsored by a civil rights group in this overwhelmingly white state, was interrupted briefly when an environmental protester approached the stage and tried to speak to the candidates. As a Secret Service agent hustled the woman away, moderator Tavis Smiley joked about her stealing his spotlight, and Mr. Gore remarked the activists were making their point "in the wrong way."
The sharpest exchange of the hourlong event came when Mr. Bradley accused Mr. Gore and President Clinton of ineffectiveness in ending the police practice of racial profiling, in which minorities are targeted as likely suspects. When Mr. Gore pledged to issue an executive order as president to end the practice, Mr. Bradley pounced.
"We have a president now you serve with him," Mr. Bradley told Mr. Gore. "I want you to walk down that hallway, walk into his office and say, 'Sign this executive order today.' "
Mr. Gore replied huffily, "Bill Clinton doesn't need a lecture from Bill Bradley on how to stand up and fight for African-Americans." He added that the mayor of Jersey City, N.J., had asked for Mr. Bradley's help on the issue when he represented New Jersey in the Senate, and the mayor now supports Mr. Gore for president.
Mr. Gore has been leading Mr. Bradley in Iowa polls by about 20 points, although a Des Moines television station conducted a poll last weekend that showed Mr. Gore leading by 12 points, with 22 percent undecided. Iowans vote in party caucuses on Monday.
The debate, held to draw attention to minority issues, spent considerably less time on matters such as national security, health care and foreign policy as both men tried to curry favor with the minority audience.
As in a debate in New Hampshire two weeks ago, when Mr. Gore tried to outdo his opponent by pledging a "litmus test" on homosexuality for officers to be nominated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both men went all out last night to promise that their nominees for Cabinet posts and the Supreme Court would reflect America's diversity.
"I'll make sure the administration I lead reflects the diversity of this country," Mr. Bradley said. "That will make the administration stronger and better able to lead all the people."
The vice president said the Clinton administration has "broken every record" for appointing minorities to government posts and that he would go one better as president.
"I will seek to break that all-time record," Mr. Gore said. "It is the best way to have a government that works well for all of America."
Asked by a panelist if they would name two Latino candidates for consideration to the Supreme Court, both men finally drew a line.
"I think I'm going to avoid listing names of people to appoint," Mr. Gore said. "I think I'd be getting ahead of myself."
Mr. Bradley said Latinos "should be appointed at the highest levels of government," including the Supreme Court. He offered "a commitment that there are many who could" serve on the high court.
The debate even touched on the punishment for Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker, who has been ordered to undergo counseling after making racist comments in an interview in a national sports magazine. Mr. Bradley, a former professional basketball player, said it was his job on the New York Knicks to provide racial sensitivity training to new white players who made offensive remarks. Mr. Bradley said of Mr. Rocker, whose name he mispronounced "Rooker," "I wouldn't be disappointed if they fired him."
Mr. Gore called the baseball player's comments "reprehensible," but said the pitcher deserves forgiveness.
The forum was sponsored by the Iowa Black-Brown Coalition, an organization founded by state Rep. Wayne Ford, a native of the District and the lone black legislator in Iowa. Minorities account for less than 3 percent of the state's population, although the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the state's black community grew 17 percent from 1990 to 1998.
A panel of blacks and Hispanics posed questions along with audience members and the moderators, Soledad O'Brien of NBC and Mr. Smiley of Black Entertainment Television. The event was broadcast nationally on MSNBC.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bradley told an audience celebrating the Martin Luther King holiday that he is closer to Mr. Clinton than any other politician including Mr. Gore on racial policies.
Mr. Bradley appeared taken aback when a young public school student at the forum at Drake University asked if he was better than Mr. Clinton.
"Do I think I'm better than Bill Clinton?" Mr. Bradley repeated. "Thank God I don't have to run against Bill Clinton. I'm more similar to the policies, particularly on the issue of race, to Bill Clinton than I am to any other politician that I have seen. We're different people, but we have a common commitment on the issue of race."
He also said the United States should "reconstruct the multiracial coalition that made such progress in the civil rights revolution in the 1960s."
"I believe there's still injustice in the country, and it is the number of children who live in poverty," Mr. Bradley said.
Mr. Bradley, a former professional basketball player, was accompanied at the event by NBA Hall of Fame player Bill Russell. Mr. Russell told the crowd that Mr. Bradley "wants to be the president for all citizens, not a select group of citizens."
The environmental protester, who tried to read a question to the candidates as the debate began, was questioned by local police and released.

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