To be a Republican in the District of Columbia is lonely enough, but to be a black Republican in a city overwhelmingly Democratic is to be a member of one of the most execlusive clubs in the world. d
Still, here at their party's national nominating convention, the seven black members of the D.C. Republican delegation are enjoying the kind of high visibility and prominence they could never enjoy in Washington.
As the most unusual delegation -- all urban, and with Michigan and California, one of the three delegations here with the highest number of blacks -- the District's black Republicans are finding themselves the subject of numerous press interviews and have become the de facto black leaders on issues like the urban policy plank.
The District's black representatives are keeping a high profile: The Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr. gave the convention's opening invocation Monday morning, and closed that first session with a prayer when the designated chaplain failed to show. The first motion to come from the floor, a technical motion to dispense with reading of the convention's minutes, came from Arthur A. Fletcher, chairman of the D.C. delegation.
In terms of vice presidential politicking, too, the main preoccupation at a convention that was all settled back in May -- the District's 14 delegates were the ones who paid for the "Reagan/Bush" buttons to boost their preferred nominee for the second spot on the GOP ticket.
The D.C. delegates also initiated a petition that has been circulating on the convention floor, asking delegates to sign if they want Bush as the vice presidential nominee.
In a meeting Monday in Bush's suite at the Pontchartrain Hotel, the candidate released the 14 District delegates -- all Bush delegates -- to vote for Ronald Reagan when the roll is called.
While the delegates, in their caucus, agreed to vote for Reagan on the first ballot, many -- like blacks from the other delegations here -- are cautious in their support of the Republican Party's presumptive nominee.
When they return to the precincts in the District, the black delegates will be pushing a nominee who does not enjoy the best reputation among blacks. And they will be campaigning for a party platform that includes the D.C. delegation's verbatim language on urban policy, but also includes some rather conservative language on the so-called social issues, like abortion.
Their job in pushing Reagan and the GOP platform would be easier, the delegates here say, if a moderate like Bush were the vice presidential choice.
"I just think it's time for blacks to understand that the leadership of both parties is right of center," Fletcher said.
"It's a conservative platform," he said, "but it also has some appeal in it for black Americans." That appeal is the plank committing the party to an urban policy rooted in private enterprise instead of massive federal handouts.
"I support my plank," Fletcher said. "My plank is in his (Reagan's) platform."
Fletcher said he thinks President Carter will lose 25 to 30 percent of the black vote to John Anderson, because Reagan has not yet reached out for the black vote. "I liken Reagan to Nixon going to China," Fletcher said. "Reagan is the only conservative who could reach out to the black community and they would accept him. It will be interesting to see if he does that."
Reagan got off to a bad start by skipping the Miami convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People two weeks ago. Today in Detroit, he tried to make amends by appearing before a reception for black delegates at the Renaissance Center.
Reagan also defused a potential controversy by giving speaking time tonight to NAACP President Benjamin Hooks, who had crashed the Grand Old Party without an invitation.
Hooks, in a ringing oration, which he called "nonpartisan," told the Republicans: "Even though we may disagree on some issues, we ought to be able to disagree without being disagreeable."
He blasted the conservative Republican platform positions on abortion, capital punishment and the ERA "in part, because of uneven treatment on the basis of race, sex and poverty; we urge you to reexamine your positions."
The District, having the second largest contingent of black delegates and alternates, was easy prey for the army of television reporters looking for instant reaction to the Hooks speech.
Fletcher, on CBS, challenged the Democrats to have as much impact at their convention as the 56 black GOP delegates have had here. And D.C. alternate delegate Jeanine Smith Clark told NBC that getting Hooks to speak was in itself a victory for the small number of black Republicans in Detroit.
Moore tried to drum up some of the enthusiasm for Reagan that had been lacking here when he was asked to say a few words to the reception shortly before Reagan spoke. The few words turned into a ringing pep talk, something like a high school football coach would deliver to a team that doesn't want to leave the locker room.
"We need to get some enthusiasm among ourselves," Moore bellowed. "When we get that enthusiam then we can convince other black Americans to vote for Reagan. We black people will help him become president and he will help us."
Several other prominent Republicans, black and white, pleaded for continued black support in the Republican Party. Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh -- who claimed to have won 58 percent of the black vote in his campaign -- said, "I stand here as Exhibit A, and say it can be done."
Rep. John Rhodes, the House Minority Leader, said, "The Republican Party needs to broaden its base, and we need you. We need you good American citizens who are of African ancestry more than you need us."
And Mississippi Republican national committeeman Clark Reed -- who once said he did not want to be "the first white man from Mississippi to go to Detroit twice" -- told the black delegates, "It's wrong for parties to divide along racial lines, just like it was wrong for our country to divide."
Reagan, the grand final speaker before the black group, recalled his party's traditional commitment to blacks, and he attacked the Carter administration policy of fighting inflation with unemployment. He called welfare "another form of bondage" for blacks, and urged a free enterprise approach to alleviate black social ills.
But even after that heavy afternoon courtship, blacks here seemed uneasy about making Ronald Reagan a political bedfellow. Said Melvin Burton, a black D.C. delegate, "It will take more than one short speech to mend the wounds."