IT'S EASY TO FORGET about Ron Brown these days.
You remember Ronald H. Brown? He used to be head of the Washington bureau of the National Urban League. He was talked about as a candidate for mayor of this city in 1978. He was in the news occasionally as president of the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. Then last fall he became a point man for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's presidential bid, and he was the one the reporters talked with on TV the morning after Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination.
Now he is not going to be the black man closest to the president of the United States as he hoped a year ago. Neither is he going to be chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee as he hoped two weeks ago, because Kennedy's party lost the Senate.
All that would seem to suggest that Brown is now heading down a road toward oblivion. But he isn't.
First of all, 1982 is coming, and people already are talking to him again about running for mayor. They find him an attractive candidate. He is a smart, 39-year-old lawyer who was born in Washington and grew up in New York City. Brown lives with his wife, Alma, and two teen-age children on an Upper Northwest Washington street that is home to the upwardly mobile. He enjoys the support of both "old guard" Washingtonians and the younger set, with a career that spans civil rights and public service.
Second, he's going to be chief minority counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an important job that will grow even more so if Ted Kennedy emerges as the voice of Democratic righteousness crying out in a conservative Republican wilderness. Kennedy, by giving Brown one of the highest prizes he had left to give anybody who worked in his campaign, has put Brown in an extremely influential position, despite the senator's new and unaccustomed minority status on the committee. Brown can help Kennedy set priorities in his task of rebuilding the shattered Democratic party.
If Strom Thurmond becomes the ogre his early statements suggest, Kennedy's most effective forum from which to maintain the liberal Democratic Party dogma is going to be his minority leadership post on the committee. And Ron Brown's role there could be crucial, if not immediately visible, to the black community.
Over the years, blacks have functioned as advisers to major political figures in a variety of ways. While the public tends to focus on such superstars as Jesse Jackson or Andrew Young today, or Mary McLeod Bethune, an unofficial adviser to Franklin D. Roosevelt, in her day, many other blacks have operated quietly behind the scenes, often unknown to the rank and file in the black community, asserting their influence on the political structures and strategies around them. Ron Brown may well become such a man.
These men and women are extremely important not only in their own right but in the circles of the black in-crowd.
Louis Martin, a top black in the Carter White House and in other Democratic administrations, is known as the godfather of black politics for his extensive influence, but if you ask somebody on Good Hope Road who he is, you would likely draw a blank stare.
Hobart Taylor Sr., a millionaire lawyer, played that role in the Lyndon Johnson White House. Jesse Hill, an Atlanta businessman, was never a staff person but was probably the black adviser closest to Jimmy Carter.
Republicans Bob Brown and Stan Scott were blacks who played that role in the Nixon White House. That certain blacks consider this an important role is evidenced by the battle over who will now be closest to Ronald Reagan. The recent press conference here at which D.C. Republicans arrogantly announced that city officials must henceforth go through them to get to the White House is an unfortunate example of this process at work.
As for Ron Brown, while it would have been nice for him to be the principal black with the ear of the president of the United States or even to enjoy the prestigious job of majority counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, his new minority status is not at all a loss or waste: he will be in a position to articulate black counterconcerns at a high level in the new conservative atmosphere of the Senate.
Brown may have an added impetus: the unusually broad mandate that Ted Kennedy seems committed to giving him. When Brown joined Kennedy's team as deputy campaign manager a year ago,he was secretly anxious about whether he would be utilized only as an "urban expert" specializing in black affairs. But Kennedy gave assurances that he would perform the full range of duties of a deputy campaign manager and actively pushed Brown to the front lines before audiences and the press. Kennedy took Brown to New Hampshire and later put him in charge of the all-important California primary. That the senator's strategy worked was clear to Brown and millions of television viewers during the campaign.
Hardly had Brown returned to his makeshift office here after being interviewed last August on Good Morning America when the telephone rang. It was his father telling him he was "proud" of his son, "and I was proud of those reporters, too." Brown's insurance broker father then added, "They didn't once ask you about the black vote."
Ron Brown's eyes smile as he tells the story. He always wanted to expand his horizons to wider political seas. That he has now means it won't be so easy to forget about Ron Brown in the future.