Republican U.S. Senate candidate John W. Warner's conservative rhetoric and claims that he tried to slow down racial integration of the Navy were coldly questioned here yesterday by members of the black Baptist Ministers Conference.
The Warner encounter with the politically influential black ministers did little to fortify his personal hopes of rising above the bed rock of 5 percent of the black vote won by most Republican candidates in Virginia statewide elections.
Warner came to the Richmond meeting from Norfolk, where former President Gerald R. Ford wound up a two-day campaign swing with the senate candidate at a $25 a person fund raising breakfast attended by about 400 people.
At the meeting with about 20 members of the Richmond ministerial organization, the Rev. Robert L. Taylor of the Fourth Baptist Church first alluded to Warner's frequent criticism of U.S. intervention in state affairs and then added, "Many of use feel that the federal government has been the salvation of the black fold in the South."
Taylor next cited news accounts of a Washington television interview in which Warner said he tried as secretary of the Navy in the early 1970s to sow down racial integration efforts of Adm. Elmo R. Zumwalt, his chief of naval operations.
"I don't known whether you were aware then of the blood, sweat and tears that advancement of four people had cost us," Taylor said to Warner.
The GOP candidate answered that the Navy was fully desegregated when he became undersecretary in 1969 and later secretary, but he added:
"It was my judgment that we could not hold out aspirations to minorities that we could not fulfill. It was very important that any promises we made be kept within the time frame that we thought we could do it. I did have a disagreement with Adm. Zumwalt with respect to the time frame in which those measure could be achieved."
Warner was asked by another minister who cited unemployment rates of 40 percent among black youths whether he favored the Humphrey-Hawkins bill setting an unemployment goal of 4 percent.
The candidate criticized the proposal as "holding out a false hope" of eradicating unemployment "through the expenditure of tax dollars." He said he had the same 4 percent unemployment goal but would achieve it through an across the board tax cut, which he said would make more jobs available in the private sector.
"Many of use feel we just can't trust the private sector," the Re. J.B. Gordon of the Bethlehem Baptist Church said in reply. "It has been the government programs that have given us the little taste of first class citizenship that we have had."
At the Norfolk event, former Gov. Mills E. Godwin introduced Ford and mocked efforts by Warner's opponent, former attorney general Andrew P. Miller, to identify himself with Virginia conservatives, especially Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., a longtime Godwin ally.
"He speaks of acting in concert with Virginia's senior Sen. Harry Flood Byrd Jr.," Godwin said in disbelieving tones. "Now there's a combination for you." Godwin said Miller is more likely, if elected, to act in concert with such Senate liberals as Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and will be reponsive to pressure from the Carter administration out of party loyalty.
Godwin, who served his second term as governor while Miller was attorney general, told the crowd his first hand knowledge of Miller's political actions "is precisely why I am supporting John Warner.