At its annual dinner last night, the Washington Urban League issued a call for an agenda of social concerns for the 1980s. But Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), the dinner speaker, called another task a greater priority.
"We can't start an agenda for the '80s until we defeat the budget that is now before Congress. We can't get to first base with this impediment. If it succeeds, we are blocked in terms of our strategy for economic and political parity," said Mitchell, who is presenting an alternative budget on Capitol Hill in the the next few days. Speaking of proposed cuts in social programs, he added, "I grieve inside when I think America, with all its greatness, all its humanity, has had its thinking perverted by putting a value on poor people and the elderly."
In the Washington Hilton ballroom, where 900 people gathered for a filet mingon and raspberry souffle dinner, the applause for Mitchell was mixed with a measurable silence of thoughtful reaction. Jerome Page, the League's local president, said one of the targets in the 1980s should be to remove race as a barrier to economic proogress.
Since this is the season for budgets, the District's own money problems came in for some comment. When Page complimented Mayor Marion Barry on his fight to reduce the city's projected $173 million deficit, his remarks received only lukewarm, scattered applause. City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, who earlier this week asked the House Appropriations Commitee for additional money and staff, said, "I haven't received any negative phone calls. I think the people understand that the City Council needs an adequate support system to function."
In this corporate and civil rights gathering, the issue of equity for minority developers sparked some conversation. "There's too much talking in shorthand on this issue," said Sterling Tucker, an assistant secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "No one is talking about something for nothing. Some people are hired on boards because their names bring prestige. Equity means you receive something of value and it isn't alwlays money. Now if someone is asking for a free ride, no go." Robert Grayson McGuire Jr., an influential local businessman, said, "I'm definitely for equity, but how you gain it is something else. If you just get in by ethnic identity alone I say no."
McGuire was one of five honorees at last night's dinner, named in honor of the late Whitney M. Young Jr., the executive director of the League from 1961 until 1971. The others were Kent Cushenberry, corporate manager of community relations for IBM; Marian Right Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; Sol Linowitiz, special envoy to the Middle East; and the late Joseph Danzansky, attorney and civic activist.
In his remarks Mitchell praised the absent Linowitz by quoting from a speech the latter gave in Baltimore. "Sol said, "Gentlemen, the system of capitalism will collapse unless you have social consciousness within your corporation.' Wherever he is, I hope he gets those two factions together."