- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Greater Washington Urban League President Maudine R. Cooper says her group will welcome President Bush to the National Urban League conference in Pittsburgh next week, despite tensions over Mr. Bush’s decision to skip the national NAACP convention in Florida last week.

“Whatever your view is, he is the president, and to ignore that is to ignore the leadership that can help us,” said Ms. Cooper, who was traveling to Pittsburgh yesterday. “I mean, we need to hear from not only the leader of the nation, but the leader of the free world.”

She said she did not understand why Mr. Bush did not attend the meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but said she respected his support of the Urban League’s convention.

“I think he should speak to those he agrees with and those who he does not agree with. He should address any significant group in the community,” Ms. Cooper said.

Founded in 1911, the National Urban League is a community-based organization that promotes self-sufficiency to improve the economic and social status of black Americans. Its annual national conference runs Saturday through Wednesday.

Ms. Cooper, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Washington Urban League since 1990, said it would be “silly” for any member of her organization to not want to hear what Mr. Bush has to say.

The Urban League’s diversity, she said, has mitigated stereotypes of blacks as anti-Republican. Ms. Cooper said many Republicans are among the more than 100 leaders of Urban League chapters around the country, and that the group’s membership is similarly diverse.

“For a long time, there was a general feeling that the Republicans ignored us and the Democrats took us for granted. Now there is more attention to the people, instead of the politics,” Ms. Cooper said.

The national conference will provide an opportunity to discuss several issues, especially the District’s dire needs in education and affordable housing, she said.

“If you are not constantly vigilant, they will forget. They will go back to square one,” she said.

Francis E. Wakely, vice president of development for the Urban League of Pittsburgh, said politicians need to pay more attention to the concerns of blacks and Mr. Bush’s visit is a step in that direction.

“We think this is a wonderful testament to his interest in the African-American community,” Mr. Wakely said. “Any candidate should pay attention to any segment of the community, particularly one that has worked hard to be what it is today.”

Ms. Cooper said the Urban League gave Mr. Bush a standing ovation for a speech on education reform he delivered in 2001 in the District. “But a speech is just a speech, it’s not implementation.”

She said she hopes federal and local governments will appreciate the value of blacks’ achievements by aiding programs and groups like hers.

“Self-sufficiency seems to be something the government is interested in. They want to see folks get their act together,” she said.

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