Black presidential bid aims at influencing Democratic choice
Building on black candidate Harold Washington's recent success in Chicago's Democratic mayoral primary, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is encouraging blacks nationwide to field a candidate for the Democratic presidential primaries in 1984.
Mr. Jackson, the self-styled ''country preacher'' from Chicago and president of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity), was instrumental in mobilizing that city's minority communities to support Representative Washington in his bid to unseat Mayor Jane Byrne.
The effort to find a black presidential candidate was spurred, at least in part, by actions of two prominent Democrats - presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts. Both chose not to endorse Washington, opting instead for one of his white opponents. Jackson and Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind., strongly objected to the Mondale and Kennedy endorsements. They cite these endorsements as evidence of waning black political clout in the Democratic Party.
By uniting behind a black candidate, Jackson argues, US blacks will be in a stronger position to influence the outcome of the Democratic National Convention in 1984 - both in terms of the nomination itself and the party platform.
No name is in the hopper at this time, Jackson says, adding, however, that he would be willing accept ''a draft'' to run as a ''designated black candidate'' in the 1984 Democratic Party primaries. ''Our main goal will be to vote [ President] Reagan out,'' he says. ''We are seeking an alliance with Hispanics and women.''
Whether Jackson's idea gains ground among blacks depends on support from a number of sources - the Congressional Black Caucus, plus associations of other black office holders, including mayors, legislators, and local elected officials.
Mayor Andrew Young of Atlanta, District of Columbia congressional delegate Walter Fauntroy, and Rep. Mickey Leland (D) of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, met in Atlanta in early March to discuss Jackson's proposal. But they did not commit themselves. They plan future meetings.
Jackson claims to have the support of such black leaders as Maxine Waters of California (who helped arrange a White House tea for black women in 1980 when the Congressional Black Caucus refused to invite President Carter to its annual dinner), Percy Sutton of New York (former Manhattan borough president), and others.
As a blueprint for political action, Jackson's plan reads well, says Eddie N. Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political Action, black ''think tank'' in Washington, D.C. A Joint Center study on the pros and cons of fielding a black candidate was said to be the focus of discussion at the Atlanta meeting.
''With several strong candidates in a divided [Democratic] convention, blacks could wield a decisive vote,'' he said. ''This assumes that a black hopeful arrives at the convention with a pocket full of votes, which spells clout.''
But he also warns that such a run could isolate the black voting bloc from the mainstream of the Democratic Party.
A black run in the primary is a risk that could backfire, says Emma Jackson, a political science faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). ''If a black candidate locks up the black votes, none of the other candidates would have to cater to the black voter, and blacks would no longer hold the wild card.''
''If Jesse [Jackson] is talking about a separate party of black people, it won't work,'' says Dr. Jackson. ''Otherwise, a black candidate must be nominated by a major party.''
Still, a black candidate - ''preferably male with charisma'' - would fare better than Shirley Chisholm did in 1972, she says. Running as ''unbossed and unbought,'' Mrs. Chisholm attracted only a trickle of votes and brought only a few committed delegates to the Democratic convention.
''Certain factors were against Shirley Chisholm in 1972,'' Dr. Jackson says. ''She broke ranks. She was only a second-term member of Congress, a black woman with West Indian heritage. The Congressional Black Caucus resented her. The women's liberation movement looked the other way.''
Jesse Jackson's strategy for mobilizing black grass-roots political power includes an effort to round up financial and political backing for a single black candidate in the Democratic primaries. This will give blacks leverage to make their concerns known to the party's official candidate.
''Only a tight race between the major parties can make the black vote truly meaningful,'' says MIT's Dr. Jackson. She notes the black vote elected Jimmy Carter in 1976, but that Carter lost in 1980 with 90 percent of the black total in 1980.