Aris Allen, a black physician and state senator from Annapolis, is about to become a prime-time TV star, a politician who may appear on the tube for more minutes than Ronald Reagan before the Republican National Convention adjourns late Thursday night.
It is the soft-spoken Allen, as convention secretary, who will be seen and heard, calling out the roll of the states as the delegate votes are officially tabulated for the party's presidential and vice-presidential nominees. There is a high visibility in this function; none other than the now-famous Mary Crisp first made a name for herself as secretary in 1976 by adeptly pronouncing "Muzzurah" when the roll call came to the "Show Me" state.
At a convention where blacks will be hard to find -- they make up 2.8 percent of the delegates here -- there are some people why say that Allen was plucked for the job because of the color of his skin. Being black certainly helped him, but Allen bristles at the suggestion that it was the overriding factor.
"I don't think this is a token appointment," said the 69-year-old Allen, the first black to serve as secretary at a GOP convention. "It was an advantage -- I turned a disadvantage into an advantage -- but I consider it recognition that I've paid my dues."
Allen has been what he called "a loyal Republican" for most of his adult life -- serving eight years in the Maryland House of Delegates, attending three national conventions, holding the job of state party chairman for two terms, running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket in 1978, and last year, returning to the General Assembly as a senator.
His loyalty to the party is such, Allen said in an interview today, that he has no qualms about supporting Ronald Reagan -- and in fact being the man who will announce to the world that Reagan is the nominee -- during a year when "many black Republicans tell me they're going to sit out the election."
"The perception of Reagan has not been favorable as far as blacks are concerned," said Allen. "I shared that perception for a long time. But then I looked up his record -- the facts, not the image -- and I was shocked. tI discovered that he had appointed more minorities than any previous governor of California."
The difficulty Allen will have spreading the message was evident this morning when he appeared at a breakfast given in his honor at St. John's Presbyterian Church. The breakfast was hosted by the black Republicans of Detroit's 13th Congressional District, a district the embraces the Cobo Hall-Renaissance Center convention area.
At the entranceway to the church's linoleum-floored, non air-conditioned auditorium stood Dovie Pickett, the Republican chairman in the district, and 82-year-old Snow F. Grigsby. They were less than ecstatic about their party and its nominee for president.
"These people come and celebrate in our territory and they haven't done anything for this district or its people," said Grigsby. "Their attitude is bad. It's like they put a lock on the door and say they don't want you inside."
"What we're talking about is 56 black delegates out of a total of 1,994," added Pickett. "You call that balanced? For a party that's supposed to have an open door, I think it's fallen far short of its goal. I wouldn't be here myself if I weren't the party chairman."
As Pickett greeted the last of some 40 black Republicans who came to the church, Allen walked to the front of the room, acknowledged the standing ovation he received, and began an upfrom-bootstraps sermon.
"It is only through contribution that recognition comes," said Allen.
"Amen," shouted R. L. Hordan from the back row.
"No one in this world gives you a darn thing," said Allen.
"Amen," came the shouts.
"I've been a faithful Republican, a contributing Republican, a good party man," continued Allen, his voice more powerful. "For that reason, the party is recognizing me with this honor."
"All right! We heard that," chanted Jordan.
"In 1884, John Lynch was the first black man to address a convention, and it was a Republican convention he addressed," said Allen. "Now 96 years later, I come along."
"Here you be," shouted Jordan.
"The party will recognize those who contribute," said Allen, his tone now that of a political science professor. "There is a spoils system. Under that system those people who support and contribute are those who are recognized. That is reality."
Since May 8, when GOP Chairman Bill Brock designated him as convention secretary, Allen has been working diligently on the contribution he is to make to the 1980 convention. He has carried a phonetically spelled list of the 50 states in his shirt pocket, now and then pulling it out to practice.
"When I ride around in my car you can hear me calling out the names of the states," he said. "The touchiest one to pronounce is Massachusetts."