- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2004

Continuing an assault begun by Wesley Clark, black officials yesterday condemned Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry and a 1992 speech the candidate made disparaging affirmative action.

Mr. Kerry was not counted as an ally when affirmative action was under siege in Congress, Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, said yesterday, speaking as a supporter of Mr. Clark.

“We had a number of allies on the Senate side, and I would not number Mister Kerry among them,” Mr. Jefferson said. “There was a time that we were not sure at all of the fate of affirmative action and other programs to achieve equality in this country. That was when we really needed allies and when we really saw who our true friends were.”

Mr. Kerry said in a 1992 speech at Yale that “Today the civil rights arena is controlled by lawyers and the winners and losers determined by … rules most Americans neither understand nor are sympathetic with. … This shift in the civil rights agenda has directed most of our attention and much of our hope into one inherently limited and divisive program: affirmative action.”

He also said that the policy developed by the Nixon administration brought about a “culture of dependency.”

Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that when she heard Mr. Kerry’s comments at the time, “I was quite disturbed. … [The speech] was peppered with racial innuendo.”

Mr. Kerry was also challenged on his stance on affirmative action last fall by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who dropped out of the race earlier this month.

The dispute began anew during a candidate debate Thursday in South Carolina, where the candidates are battling to win a portion of the state’s considerable black vote. The moderator, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, asked Mr. Kerry about the 1992 speech.

Mr. Kerry said that he was only describing what critics of affirmative action had said and that he agreed with President Clinton who wanted to “mend it, not end it.”

Mr. Clark yesterday told a crowd at the historically black Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., “When you make a mistake, you ought to fess up to it, take responsibility for it and correct it. We need leadership that will take responsibility in this country, and I’m very disturbed that John did not do that.”

The Kerry campaign, in response, issued a statement from Rep. James E. Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat who is an influential black lawmaker and a Kerry backer.

“I am sorry that General Clark is launching negative attacks,” the statement said. “The truth is that John Kerry has stood strong all his life to defend affirmative action. John Kerry, President Clinton, myself and many other supporters of affirmative action fought together to overcome adverse judicial decisions and to ensure the survival of affirmative action. That is what President Clinton did with ‘mend it, don’t end it.’”

The affirmative action comments and conflict may add to Mr. Kerry’s estrangement from black voters in South Carolina. Mr. Kerry, along with most of the presidential contenders, has ignored the NAACP’s economic boycott of South Carolina over the flying of the Confederate flag on the Statehouse grounds.

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