Clinton Appointments Opening Office Doors For Minority Groups
PRESIDENT-ELECT Clin-ton's newly forming administration has been called the most "inclusive" in history. Cabinet and senior policy posts include an unprecedented number of women and minorities; new White House advisers promise action on the problems of those who have long felt ignored by official Washington.
This outreach to a broad spectrum of United States residents has raised expectations of minority groups and their advocates.
Some assert that with his appointments, Mr. Clinton has already brightened prospects for the nation's minorities. But others are more cautious in their comments and warn that some groups may be disappointed.
Praise came from some of last week's summit participants: "Twenty years ago, minorities, including women, were trying to get a small-business loan. Today, because of you," said Earl Graves, owner and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, "the officially designated spokesperson for American business is himself a minority." He was referring to Clinton's nomination of Ron Brown as commerce secretary.
Jon Blyth, a program officer of the community-oriented Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, is heartened by Clinton's recent choices, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary-designate Henry Cisneros, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Donna Shalala, and Education Secretary-designate Richard Riley. Throughout their careers, he says, they have all gained experience with minority issues and have successfully worked with local communities.
Like many participants in the Dec. 14-15 economic conference, Mr. Graves made several recommendations concerning minority economic development.
"Short-term efforts to stimulate the economy" must include stepping up federal support for small business, he says. Because they are more stable than employment offered by short-lived public-works programs, these jobs will ensure a "long-term solution to high unemployment rates in inner-city areas."
Clinton's plans to support federally mandated urban enterprise zones, ensure government loan guarantees for small businesses, and enlist cooperation from commercial banks to extend community-development loans under the Community Reinvestment Act are essential if minority business is to succeed, Graves says.
All of Graves's suggestions have been considered or even enacted in recent years, but politicians have lacked the will to carry them forward. Mr. Blyth says the conditions are now ripe for action.
Another Mott Foundation program officer, Jack Litzenberg, says he was "very surprised" that minority, grass-roots, and community-based organizations were so well represented at the Little Rock conference. Now that their needs have been aired, he says, they must secure federal funding. Without more government investment in local development, Clinton's welfare-reform plans to limit assistance to two years per recipient will fail, he warns.
Chief Wilma Mankiller, the leader of the 140,000-member Cherokee nation and a conference attendee, says Indian reservations are battling 54 percent unemployment, abject poverty, and homelessness.
Chief Mankiller has been involved in Indian-US government affairs for 25 years. She says the level of the president-elect's interest in minority affairs is "unprecedented." Most native Americans are "extremely hopeful" that the new administration will bring them constructive changes, she says. She is seeking tax and wage credits "for private investors in Indian country," the right to issue mortgage bonds "so we can build our own houses," and access to government-guaranteed loans and insurance.
The new administration will be deluged with special-interest requests, analysts say. And ironically, Clinton seems to be promising more than what some grass-roots organizers think is possible. "For example, he wants to build 100 community-development banks and establish 1,000 microenterprise programs," Mr. Litzenberg says. But the country currently has the capacity for roughly 5 percent of what Clinton is proposing.
Many people who seemed to gain Clinton's attention will be disappointed, says John Brummett, an Arkansas political commentator who has watched Clinton operate as governor for 12 years. "In Arkansas, you have a lot of folks who think Clinton's with them. He was sensitive, he nodded, he acknowledged their point of view. You saw that at the economic conference with his 300 invited participants.
"But Clinton's a pragmatist, and given a choice between taking a risk for liberal constituencies and broadening his base with business, conservatives, and moderates, he'll choose the latter."