Tuesday, September 16, 2003

The congressional Republican leadership next week will provide an alternative to the commencement of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual convention with a soiree to honor the Bush administration’s black appointees.

Virtually every senior-level black appointee in the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, has been invited.

The purpose of the event, however coincidental the timing may appear, is not to provide a Republican alternative to the CBC’s Democratic-dominated themes, said a spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

“That is not the intent,” said DeLay press secretary Jonathan Grella. Instead, it is to honor the ranking officials and, ideally, to portray the commitment of the Republican Party to the black vote. “We are glad to find a receptive audience for our agenda regarding African-Americans.”

Invitations to the Sept. 24 event, though, are not GOP-only: Marc Morial, a registered Democrat who heads the National Urban League, and Keith Clinkscales, founder of Vibe magazine and a donor to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, have been invited.

Mr. Clinkscales’s office yesterday confirmed that the publishing mogul will attend. Mr. Morial also plans to attend.

Adding to the star power cache of the event, which will be held at the Capitol, is the sponsorship of the Graham Williams Group, of which Oprah Winfrey boyfriend Stedman Graham is a partner.

“The CBC event will be a ‘bash Bush’ event,” said Armstrong Williams, a conservative pundit who is Mr. Graham’s partner in Graham Williams.

He, too, said the Republican event was not timed to coincide with the CBC’s conference, which is projected to draw thousands of people over its four-day run Sept. 24 to 27 at the Washington Convention Center.

“We have been planning this since January,” Mr. Williams said. “It just happens to fall at the time of the CBC. And everybody is coming to our event to celebrate the president’s appointments and his continuing contributions to black America.”

Of the 300 invitations sent for the cocktail hour get-together, 140 persons have responded that they will attend, Mr. Williams said. They include rank-and-file Americans who “want to meet these appointees and talk to them.”

Other black appointees invited include Education Secretary Rod Paige and Deputy Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alphonso Jackson.

While the CBC Foundation has tax-exempt status and is supposed to be prohibited from political activism, the CBC’s 39 members are exclusively Democrats. The foundation’s president, Weldon Rougeau, served in the Labor Department under President Clinton and is a Democratic donor.

And the elected officials’ mantra has been to discredit Bush policy.

“The CBC Foundation is an education and public policy institution,” said spokeswoman Janice Crump. She noted that the workshops and presentations scheduled for the conference are informational, not partisan.

“Everything we do is for the common good,” she said. “We bring people to Washington to not only discuss the issues but to come up with solutions to take back to their communities.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley Braun, along with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and former Rep. Ron Dellums, California Democrat, are among those scheduled to appear at the CBC convention.

Caucus members are allowed to extend invitations for the dinner on Saturday evening. President Clinton attended one year as a guest of Texas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson.

But no one will be inviting President Bush, said CBC spokesman Doug Thornell.

“We’ve invited the president to meet with us on more than a half-dozen occasions,” Mr. Thornell said. “But he has declined or he has ignored us.”

Mr. Bush has grappled with the black vote since receiving 8 percent of the constituency to Al Gore’s 92 percent in 2000.

This summer the president again disregarded an invitation from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to speak at its annual convention.

Two weeks later, he spoke at the Urban League’s convention in what some perceived as flaunting his snub of the NAACP, which vociferously opposed him during his 2000 campaign.

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