- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

President Bush has turned down an invitation to speak at next week's annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in New Orleans, citing a busy week on Capitol Hill.
"We invite every sitting president to come and talk to us," said Hilary Shelton, director of the 500,000-member civil rights group's Washington bureau. "I was surprised. President Clinton came every year but one, and then he sent Al Gore in his place."
A Jan. 30 invitation from NAACP President Kweisi Mfume asked Mr. Bush to be the keynote speaker on July 11.
"Since we are very limited on time, we would appreciate your remarks being limited to 20 minutes," Mr. Mfume requested.
In a June 5 reply to Mr. Mfume obtained by The Washington Times, a deputy assistant to the president said Mr. Bush "appreciates your extending this opportunity … [but] due to the heavy commitments of his schedule, we must unfortunately regret."
The note was written on White House letterhead and signed by Bradley A. Blakeman, the deputy assistant to the president for appointments and scheduling.
"The next several weeks are critical weeks for many of the president's key initiatives," Bush spokeswoman Claire Buchan said yesterday. "And given the out-of-town nature of this event, we are not able to accept the invitation."
Mr. Bush spoke at last year's convention while running for president and received a chilly but polite reception, with the applause subdued and scattered. In contrast, Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton were well-received and welcomed with warm embraces on the ballroom dais of the same convention by Mr. Mfume and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.
Support for the refusal was widespread, outspoken in some cases, among conservative blacks who are working to help Mr. Bush gain more black support.
"After what the NAACP did to him last year in those ads, portraying George Bush as a bigot and a racist. The NAACP was so dishonest and so undemocratic, I wouldn't go either if I were him," said Harry Alford, president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.
Many Republicans were shocked by NAACP-sponsored media ads last summer that linked Mr. Bush to the three white racists who murdered a black man in Texas by chaining him to their truck. Renee Mullins, the daughter of victim James Byrd, said in the ad that Mr. Bush's refusal to support a hate-crimes bill while governor of Texas "was like my father was killed all over again."
Added Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Rogers, who is spearheading a national effort at garnering the administration more black support, "It is the NAACP that has an obligation to mend the fences and extend an olive branch after that election last year. That is an organization that was previously committed to representing the diversity of a group that includes both Democrats and Republicans. But they worked so vehemently against [Mr. Bush]."
But Alvin Williams, executive director of the Republican group Black America's Political Action Committee (BAMPAC), was wary of the refusal.
"These are Americans and they have issues, and this is the most powerful civil rights organization in the country, and you don't just throw that out the window," he said.
The political wedge between the administration and the NAACP, under the hand of Mr. Mfume, a former Democratic congressman, is formidable.
The NAACP's $9 million Voter Fund was widely credited with earning hundreds of thousands of black votes for Mr. Gore in November's election.
Past Republicans have sporadically accepted NAACP's invitations to speak.
Mr. Bush's father addressed the national organization's annual convention as president in 1992 and, as vice president, in 1983 and 1988. President Reagan addressed the convention in 1981.
But Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole snubbed the group in 1996, arguing that the invitation was an attempt to "set me up." Mr. Dole later apologized for what he called a missed opportunity.
Such Republican fears are probably legitimate, noted David Almasi, a spokesman for Project 21, a black conservative group.
"The president has made a lot of inroads since the election with a lot of blacks other than those tied to the NAACP," Mr. Almasi said. "He doesn't need to work with this group, considering the way they treated him during the election. It's like 'OK, come and get abused by us.' The NAACP spent millions of dollars tearing his image apart and, in some people's minds, misrepresenting him."

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