"I haven't heard so many nice things said about anybody since Estes Kefauver died," said Republican National Committee Chairman William Brock.
It was the end of a long evening that started with a cocktail reception at 6:30 and continued through a dinner and many speeches in the International Ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel. Brock had heard himself hailed as the leader of a "revolution," as the architect of a new, victorious Republican Party, and as the man who had "opened the doors of the Republican Party, not only to people but to ideas."
"We've had the door open for over 100 years," said Brock, who is about to leave the party chairmanship and become a special trade representative.
"Trouble is, for a while nobody walked in."
Sponsor of the $50-a-plate testimonial to Brock -- which attracted some 450 diners, mostly black business, professional and political leaders from all parts of the country -- was a new organzation called PAR: The Progressive Assembly of Republicans. PAR chairman Aris T. Allen, a Maryland state representative and a doctor, described the small group (about 25 "highly knowledgeable and specialized" members) as "an issue-oriented think tank." Its members are all black Republicans, including Congressional staff members, elected and appointed officials, and its purposes are to identify, research and communicate issues to government decision-makers. "Many legislators and other officials recognize the need for information about black issues," said Allen. "PAR can hopefully meet that need."
Although the eveninghs rhetoric was overwhelmingly Republican, a bipartisan flavor was given by the presence of Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Some of the guests were clearly Republican but apparently still skeptical about the Republican standard-bearer. When a telegram from Ronald Reagan was read ("You can take great pride in the enormous gains we have made as a party"), a woman at one of the tables farthest from the head table questioned the value of the president-elect's tribute. "Why didn'tg they give him the Department of Commerce?" she asked. "That would have been better than a telegram."
Brock himself sounded what might have been a warning to members of his victorious party. "Sometimes," he said, "I think it is much easier to win an election than to perform the function for which you were elected. . . The thing we have to do now is to earn that with which we were blessed last November 4."
The evening's mistress of ceremonies, Gloria Toote (a New York attorney and head of a consulting firm who was reportedly "considered" for a Cabinet Post) seemed to sum up the feelings of most black Republicans present in a remark that drew a standing ovation from the guests: "Without a two-party system in black America, one party will take the black vote for granted."
According to Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), the main speaker of the evening, the Republican Party cannot afford to take anything for granted and must stop being "a status quo party." Speaking of Republican votes in Congress, he said that "1980 is either going to be a tidal wave or it is going to be a splash. It will either be what 1932 was for the Democrats or what 1952 was for the Republicans. We came in in 1952 and we went out in 1954. . . 'Status quo,' according to Ronald Reagan, is Latin for 'the mess we are in.' We are in an emergency; there is something wrong. We need to move quickly and dramatically. This is a revolution. Tonight we are at the center of history. . . Fi 1982 is to be our year, we have to show the American people that we are less interested in the Republican Party than in the American dream."
A PAR staff member described the testimonial as "a kind of coming-out party" for the organization, which was founded last February after preliminary meetings a little over a year ago. And in case anyone missed the point of the evening, Aris Allen spelled it out clearly in his introductory remarks.One conclusion of that preliminary meeting, he said, was that "Republican policies and programs must take into consideration the special and legitimate concerns of blacks."