Arthur Fletcher, the onetime assistant secretary of labor under Richard Nixon, swirls around. The caller is Clarence McKee, a communications attorney who worked as a "surrogate" speaker in the black community for Ronald Reagan.
"Hey, we are pushing your name for some things, regulatory commissions or the administrative side," says Fletcher, thumping McKee lightly on the chest.
McKee replies, rather cautiously because he has just spent an hour downplaying his own ambitions, "Well, we got to talk."
Fletcher doesn't miss a beat. "Man, I've been hearing from folks I haven't heard from in 40 years. One man told me, 'I want that job Sterling Tucker's got.' Now [that man's] a GS10. Hey, we are floating Ed Brooke's name for attorney general. How do you think that will go?"
McKee sighs, "Well only if he had signed on earlier." Fletcher starts to walk away, then turns around and calls back: "Hey, did that woman who wants something over at EPA call you?"
The rush of, for and by the black Republicans is one of the hottest, and most ironic, scrambles of the transition time. These men and women are regarded as one of the oddities of black politics, which has a voting bloc that is more than 90 percent Democratic. Black Republicans are obscure in their own party, whose platform this year ignores some critical civil rights positions.
In the wake of the Reagan landslide, they have been meeting to discuss their new status. Some have already been included in the inner circle. The director of the Black Voters for Reagan-Bush, Arthur Teele Jr., a Florida attorney, is in charge of the Department of Transportation transition team.
Black Republicans have their own celebrities, like bandleader Lionel Hampton, and their journal, the Washington-based Lincoln Review, published by businessman Jay Parker. They have several organizations and last night, the Council of 100, a private group of businessmen, had a party for one of their own, Washington attorney Timothy Jenkins.
In no way do the black Republicans represent a monolith. Many are lawyers, such as Ed Brooke and Sam Jackson. Many are businessmen, such as W. O. Walker, a Cleveland publisher who headed up Blacks Organized for Reagan. And some are scholars, such as Thomas Sowell, a leading conservative economist who is often mentioned as a leading candidate for the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and Nathan Wright, a widely known theologian.
Others who are finding access and power are:
Gloria Toote, a former assistant secretary of HUD, the person who seconded Reagan's nomination at the 1976 convention. Toote, who was part of the GOP Truce Team, with Sen. John Tower and former HUD Secretary James Lynn, flew around the country counteracting the negative statements against the Republicans; Mel Bradley, a member of then-governor Reagan's staff and part of Ed Meese's policy staff; Robert Wright, and John McNeill, the codirectors of the black community involvement program at the Republican National Committee; and Constance Newman, former commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
"Why not," says Newman, as she explains the flood of resumes coming into her transition team office. "I think that's part of the reason I am here."
Being a black Republican isn't easy. When a column about Clarence McKee's allegiance to Reagan appeared last spring, he got angry phone calls. McKee, 38, is rummaging through his K Street law office in the firm of Smith and Pepper for his campaign speeches. The column, which includes his reaction to black receptivity -- "at least they don't hiss and boo" -- is framed on the wall. So is a January, 1980, letter from Reagan. "Now," he says rather gleefully of the early skeptics, "here they are."
When George Haley, who has been active in the party for more than 25 years, finished an earnest speech at a black businessmen's group in Detroit, a man in the audience asked, "How can an intelligent man like you come and ask us to vote for the Republicans, especially this one, Reagan? They had their convention here and not 3 percent of the delegates were blacks. They don't want us."
Haley had heard the question before. "And I feel that kind of thing, the low presence of blacks in the party, is more a condemnation of us, rather than them. I feel power is something not given to you, you take it."
Being a black Republican can be lonely. "It's been a great test for me to continue to subject myself to the harassment and some ostracism," says Henry Lucas, 48, a San Francisco dentist who is considered close to the inside advisers. "People refer to you as a right-winger, an ultra-conservative, they ask why do you support racist policies. As a black I can't stand those associations. But I have always thought my views were valid. I think blacks should be part of both parties."
Their reasons for choosing the Republican Party are varied. Henry Lucas was originally won over by Dwight Eisenhower, who issued an executive order opening up public facilities for blacks in Washington.
Jay Parker was a teen-ager in suburban Philadelphia looking for a political identity. "I was always an individualist, a nonconformist, a beat-generation, on-the-road type. I was working in a drug store in Havertown and was introduced to some Young Republicans. Their program dove-tailed with my thinking about individual freedom," says Parker.
He became a Young American for Freedom in 1964 and was a volunteer for Reagan in 1968 and in 1976. His firm has held symposiums on the "free enterprise zones," conducted a study on blacks and organized labor, and, for one year, represented Transkei, the South African homeland. His institute's review has highlighted the views of Sen. Orrin Hatch and economist Walter Williams. He's now the transition leader for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an area in which he hasn't worked. "They just wanted to make sure there was no conflict of interest. What I am doing is essentially an inventory," he says.
Most of the black Republicans put some distance between themselves and some of their party's planks. Haley supports affirmative action programs. "But I think we have to redefine some of these terms; affirmative action gets the same reaction and is misinterpreted as states' rights," says Haley. "I am a black Republican and sometimes I have not been comfortable with that. But also I am a Christian and sometimes I am not a good Christian. I feel it's too easy to be a Democrat."
The exuberance of rolling with the winner was certainly the mood last night as 150 black Republicans gathered at the L'Enfant Plaza Hotel. They even joked about their fosterchild status. "Many people out tonight want to know what a black Republican looks like," said Edward Hayes, a Washington attorney.
In the room, the old guard of the black Republicans, like businessman T. M. Alexander and his son, mixed with the newer activists, like Tina Saxon of the League of Women Voters, and her husband, George, of the National Black Veterans' Association. Elaine Jenkins, one of the old guard, observed, "I think Ronald Reagan is a pragmatist. His true mandate is to bring the party along, so he won't be leaving out blacks. And none of us are for turning the curtain back. There are no Uncle Toms in this party."
Timothy Jenkins, who has honored for his appointment to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, sounded a more pragmatic note. "This is an important time for us to be getting together while we're at the twilight of the Democratic administration. We, as black people, are nervous, but we have to remember that we cannot have permanent enemies, or permanent friends. We only have permanent interests."