VERNON JORDAN HAS JUST urged Ronald Reagan to give black people some sign that he "understands their special problems," that he "recognizes the need to act to protect their rights and remove disadvantages" and that his administration will not turn a deaf ear to "enemies of justice." Whether the president-elect will respond to the black leader in his inaugural speech must remain a mystery until tomorrow, but one concrete way the new chief executive can give some assurances to blacks and the poor is to follow through swiftly on his earlier promise to appoint blacks in his administration.
As of today, the only black to win cabinet rank is New York lawyer Samuel Pierce -- as secretary of Housing and Urban Development, a job traditionally held by a black. And only one black has won a policy-making job. The Rev. Thad Garrett was picked by vice president-elect George Bush to be his domestic adviser. More than one black Republican watcher has looked at this thus far paltry record and wondered if the President-elect is going to deliver on his promise to blacks that they be well represented not only in his administration as a whole but also in jobs other than those that traditionally have been held by blacks.
Even some black Republicans are concerned.
"Right now, admit to you I want to see some things happening that aren't happening," says George Haley, a Washington lawyer who has been active in the the party for 25 years. "But I understand politics. I remain optimistic about the new administration.: Haley blamed the delay in black appointments on a "back-up in appointments in general." Haley has had several discussions about positions, "but at this point none have been offered."
"i just hope that good blacks surface," says Jewel LaFontant, a Chicago lawyer once considered a shoo-in for HUD. "i would hate to be indentified with something that would make you look like you were wrong." LaFontant is one of two blacks -- former government officials Arthur Fletcher is the other -- who already have been passed over for cabinets status jobs for which they were well qualified.
LaFontant said she was not disappointed because. "I didn't go after" the job and because financially and emotionally "I like my present life style." LaFontant said she was not disappointed because financially and emotionally "I like my present life style." LaFontant said it is unlikely that a lesser appointment would draw her away from her lucrative law practice and eight corporate board memberships.
Republican Arthur Fletcher, former assistant secretary of labor under Richard Nixon, was a leading candidate for Secretary of Labor. Passed over, Fletcher now says he doesn't want an administration job but will work from the outside to help assure "delivery of service for blacks and diminish the level of fear in the black community about the administration."
But other old guard Republicans like Fletcher see his exclusion as a bitter blow. "I believe Art would be the last one to say he didn't want anything. He wouldn't have said that a month ago," said one who asked not to be identified. "But you adjust to the reality. Of all of us, Art Fletcher would have to be the biggest disappointment. I'm sure it was not just color. In politics there is so much more. I can't say Fletcher was passed over because he was black like I can't say Betty Murphy was paooed over because she was female."
Gloria Toote, a former HUD assistant secretary who backed Reagan for the past four years and was a most visible surrogate during the election campaign, has not yet received an expected appointment.
The black Republicans like Toote who worked for Reagan walked a tough path as his surrogates. Some of these were "old line" Republicans -- businessmen, lawyers and scholars -- while others were new, mostly young Republicans, who worked hard for Reagan's election. I'ts the latter group that is expected to emerge in key sub-cabinet spots, and not necessarily traditionally black ones. These contenders include Mel Bradley, who is mentioned for a job on the White House staff, and Arthur Teele, who was in charge of transition at the Department of Transportation.Lawyer Clarence McKee, an early Reagan supporter, could have his pick of jobs, said one Republican, but has not yet decided whether he wants in.
The real test of Bradleys and Telles will be their ability not only to gain individual appointments for themselves but also to bring on other blacks, and not necessarily Republicans, as well. And blacks across the country will be looking to see whether once in jobs, these men and women deliver. Those still in official spots considered to have enough power and access to deliver jobs for other blacks include Bradley and Teele. But some old-line Republicans are questioning the resume route as the best one to put blacks in top jobs. "Some black Republicans are using a computer. . . but it's really a question of who's got the most horses. You got the horses, you get the job Said another: "Sometimes it boils down to whether the chemistry is right. . ."
One thing that is clear is that some blacks do have access to the top leadership. Bradley is considered a trusted aide of Edwin Meese, Reagan's soon-to-be White House counsel. George Bush paid a lengthy call on Art Fletcher when he was honored at a reception in Georgetown on Friday night. Reagan has personally assured blacks like Jewel LaFontant that he won't play the numbers game (only 10 percent of blacks voted for him). Fletcher heads a new minority Republican organization called Progress, Inc., that has the blessing of key legislators likeSenate majority leader HowardBaker of Tennessee.
What is needed, however, is an immediate banding together of the different groups of black Republicans to met with the top Reagan administration leadership to obtain renewed committment. It's the next two or three weeks that are crucial in seeing blacks named as deputies and under secretaries. Transition officials have black candidates for jobs, but administration officials need to be reminded that the country is looking and that their appointment of blacks is one of the most visible signals they can send.