Monday, December 15, 2003

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is being criticized by the state chapter of the NAACP, which says the Democratic governor is too slowly responding to hiring-discrimination complaints and is patronizing in throwing all-black parties.

State leaders of the civil rights group say Mr. Warner hasn’t done enough to resolve problems of racial discrimination, disparate treatment and lack of promotional opportunity for blacks at government agencies, which they acknowledge started years before he took office. Most of the hiring complaints stem from the state’s Department of Social Services.

“The higher up you go in the Department of Social Services, the whiter it gets,” King Salim A. Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP, told The Washington Times yesterday. “The agency caters to a large minority population and has a large number of minority employees, but none of them make it to the management level. These state employees need some help. I’d like them to tell their own story.”

Today, officials of the state’s NAACP chapter are expected to hold a news conference where black state employees will outline their claims of discriminatory hiring practices.

Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said many of the claims are unfounded, and that since the NAACP sent Mr. Warner a letter in October outlining some complaints, the administration has resolved a number of the group’s concerns.

“The governor has appointed one of the most diverse administrations Virginia’s ever seen,” Miss Qualls said.

Mr. Khalfani said the NAACP also is critical of Mr. Warner for hosting parties in which the majority on the guest list are black, calling the receptions “paternalistic” and “patronizing.”

However, Emmitt Carlton, former president of the Virginia state conference of the NAACP, said Mr. Warner is helping to make state government a more diverse place, but that he is under a lot of scrutiny.

“Because of his personality and background in business, there were very high expectations in having a diverse administration and reaching out. That’s a real challenge, a challenge he and staff have to meet,” Mr. Carlton told The Times.

When elected in 2001, Mr. Warner received about 92 percent of the black vote.

Mr. Carlton called the all-black receptions part of Mr. Warner’s outreach and said he attended one of them. “As long as anyone who wishes can come to them, I have no problem with it,” he said.

Statistics from the state and published reports show that over the past decade Mr. Warner’s black appointments rank second only to those of former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a fellow Democrat and the nation’s first black elected governor. The statistics show that 15.5 percent of Mr. Warner’s appointments have been black, while 28 percent of Mr. Wilder’s appointments and hires were black.

According to the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, 382 of Mr. Warner’s appointments were black in 2002 and 2003.

The Washington Post reported in 1996 that 28 percent of Cabinet secretaries, department heads, other high-ranking officials and staff members were black under Mr. Wilder and 15 percent under Republican Gov. George Allen.

Statistics for Mr. Warner’s predecessor — Republican James S. Gilmore III — were not available.

Mr. Carlton said the NAACP investigates complaints it receives from state workers and must challenge anyone in Richmond if those complaints are valid. “When you are with the state NAACP, you spar with every governor,” he said.

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said Mr. Warner has not done anything to raise the civil rights group’s ire.

“I don’t think an honest evaluation of Warner’s term would find him particularly wanting in that area. He’s made many, many key appointments of African-American leaders and generally has had policies that would benefit African-Americans. … They are just trying to get attention,” Mr. Sabato said.

Miss Qualls noted that Mr. Warner has named the first-ever Hispanic and Asian advisory committees and appointed a task force to create a model policy and statewide training effort to help end racial profiling by police.

She also pointed to Mr. Warner’s restoration of rights for 677 former inmates who have served their time, 40 shy of the combined total of the two previous administrations.

Miss Qualls said that when Mr. Warner came to office, he opened the doors for groups that hadn’t been to visit in years, including black, Hispanic and Asian groups. “I’m not sure why a diverse guest list is a problem,” she said.

Mr. Khalfani said that after meeting with Mr. Warner for two years, issues have yet to be resolved. “I guess we’re at an impasse,” he said.

“It’s great to have a diverse list of appointees, but if they are not making things better, what does it mean?” he said.

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