- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 19, 2003

President Bush has agreed to appear next week at the annual convention of the National Urban League, just two weeks after skipping the NAACP’s national conference for the third year in a row.

Mr. Bush, who received a standing ovation when he spoke to the Urban League’s national convention in Washington in 2001, will join the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, among the speakers for the five-day convention, according to several Republican sources close to the event.

The convention begins Saturday in Pittsburgh.

The president “should have spoken to the NAACP — it is the nation’s oldest civil rights group — but I am glad he is doing this,” Mr. Cummings said. “I don’t know what his rationale is with regard to speaking with the Urban League … but by not speaking to the NAACP, it seems inconsistent.”

The White House declined to comment. Urban League President Marc Morial also refused to comment yesterday.

Mr. Bush was strongly criticized during last week’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference in Miami Beach for his refusal to attend the group’s annual event for the third straight year.

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said in a highly charged keynote speech that “Republicans appeal to the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality.”

The president appears to be seizing on polls in recent years, including a 2001 Urban League survey, that have found many black Americans believe economic opportunity, rather than political leadership, should be the focus of major black organizations.

Mr. Bush has been stressing economic opportunity in his bid to court black voters, focusing his outreach efforts on the black business community rather than the special interest groups that have long criticized Republicans.

The National Urban League is seen as the least political of the major national civil rights groups, most of which are staunchly liberal and outspokenly Democratic.

With affiliates in 34 states, the Urban League concerns itself more with economics and self-sufficiency than with political activism.

In his 2001 speech to the Urban League, Mr. Bush was warmly received as he spoke of the need to improve the educational performance of blacks in schools, decrying “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Education Secretary Rod Paige and Alphonso Jackson, deputy secretary of housing and urban development, also will address the Urban League convention.

Mr. Bush has been right in his refusal to meet with groups such as the NAACP, said Armstrong Williams, a black conservative commentator.

“Some of these organizations have been downright hostile to this president, and he realizes that there is more than one avenue to reach black Americans,” Mr. Williams said. “Early on, he wanted to attend the Urban League’s convention, and the president should be praised for this. And Marc Morial has not been willing to buy into the demagoguery that [NAACP President Kweisi] Mfume, Bond and Jackson have heaped on the president. He, too, should be commended.”

Mr. Bush and Mr. Morial, however, have been historically on opposite political sides. Mr. Morial was part of the “Democratic Truth Squad” at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia that disparaged then-candidate Mr. Bush.

“I’m fearful of a George Bush administration,” Mr. Morial, a Democrat, said in 2000. “I’m fearful because when I’m reminded of Reagan-Bush, I’m reminded of the most difficult economic times in this state in my lifetime.”

Mr. Morial’s sentiments at the time echoed the feeling of most black voters, who voted 92 percent in favor of Mr. Bush’s 2000 Democratic rival, Al Gore, and who for decades have primarily supported Democratic candidates.

But Mr. Morial subsequently praised Mr. Bush for meeting with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which he headed before leaving office in 2002.

“We’ve had a good start with President Bush,” Mr. Morial told a crowd at the National Press Club in 2001.

Most recently, the Urban League lost an annual $15 million federal grant that it used to assist low-income seniors, after the U.S. Department of Labor announced an open-bid competition for the grant money.

The Urban League this spring lost the funding, which it has received for 25 years, in the bidding process.

In his address to the NAACP on Monday, Mr. Mfume called Mr. Bush’s absence “an affront,” and he criticized the president for a continued policy of refusing to meet with the group’s leaders.

“You will never be president of all of the people as long as you only want to deal with some of the people,” Mr. Mfume said.

Last week, Mr. Cummings, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, refused to meet with the president as part of a group of lawmakers to discuss Mr. Bush’s recent trip to Africa.

Instead, Mr. Cummings renewed his request to the president to meet with the Black Caucus on a range of issues, as he has requested since the last time the two met in January 2001.

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