A small group of politicians and civil rights leaders is considering a black presidential candidacy for the 1984 Democratic primaries in hopes of increasing black leverage in the choice of the nominee, redirecting the Democratic agenda and earning the respect of a party they contend has taken its most loyal voters for granted.
The candidate would run on a populist platform in states where black voting strength is highest, take part in televised debates and act as a broker at the party nominating convention, and could be available as a running mate for the eventual nominee.
Those mentioned as possible candidates include Jesse L. Jackson of Operation PUSH, Atlanta Mayor Andrew J. Young--who has said he is not interested--D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, Rep. Louis Stokes of Ohio, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and Mayor Richard G. Hatcher of Gary, Ind.
Blacks are not alone in their political frustration. Many of their complaints are echoed by Hispanics, who have begun their own effort to increase voting strength at the Democratic convention.
For the past two decades, black Democrats and civil rights leaders have wrestled with the question of whether to work inside or outside of the regular party structure, and several of those involved in the current effort acknowledge that they are not certain that this approach is the answer.
It is an embryonic project, its planners say, born of their frustrations with the Democratic Party and lifted by Rep. Harold Washington's stunning victory in the Chicago mayoral primary last month.
A black candidacy, they acknowledge, could force a painful decision on thousands of black local and state officials, who might have to risk hard-earned and fragile political coalitions with white party regulars and promised payoffs that could be vital to their constituents.
"You challenge black people on the issue of choosing between a person who might win and a person who is not running to win but running to barter," said Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), one of more than a dozen persons involved in the planning and chairman of the black caucus of the Democratic National Committee.
Yet those involved insist that a black candidate can be effective if supported from the outset by elected officials, civil rights leaders and, hopefully, black religious, fraternal and civic groups.
This is especially so, they say, at a time when President Reagan's policies appear to be driving blacks into increased political awareness and election activity.
The planners say that despite recent black gains in elective politics and at all levels of the Democratic Party structure, black issues are virtually diluted beyond recognition by other old-line but more powerful party interest groups.
Stokes, moreover, accuses the Democratic leadership in Congress of giving short shrift to alternative budgets proposed by the Congressional Black Caucus and, most recently, agreeing to an ineffective jobs bill.
"What good does it do us to be here in a Democratic-controlled Congress and we cannot get these pressing problems that confront black people addressed through legislation sponsored by the Democratic Party," said Stokes.
Jackson sees an additional benefit in the move for a black candidate.
"When we break up the all-white primary system, we also win our self-respect," he said. "As long as you have all white males on that stage it perpetuates the myth of white superiority and black inferiority."
A core group of about a dozen blacks has met several times across the country to discuss the possible black candidacy. The most formal such gathering occurred Feb. 13 at the Shoreham Hotel here.
Those involved, in addition to Stokes, Fauntroy, Jackson, Leland, Young and Hatcher, include the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, M. Carl Holman of the National Urban Coalition, Assemblywoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and former Manhattan Borough president Percy E. Sutton.
Fauntroy, who has been at almost all meetings, said the group hopes to to write a platform that could appeal to a political spectrum embracing all races and present it publicly by mid-April. Among likely planks, according to Fauntroy and others, are jobs, defense spending, corporate accountability, small business failures, affirmative action, U.S. policy toward South Africa and black voting rights.
Fauntroy said the group also is studying the campaign costs in selected primary states, meeting with other blacks to gauge support and studying changes in Democratic convention rules to determine how effective a national favorite-son campaign could be in amassing delegates.
Such a national black candidacy would be virtually unprecedented in recent black political history. In 1972, 1976 and 1980 there were national black political conventions, but none resulted in a candidacy.
In 1972, Rep. Shirley Chisholm, a black Brooklyn Democrat, ran for president and won more than 100 convention votes. But her candidacy was identified as much with women's issues as with black issues and had limited high-level black support.
Black voter registration and voter turnout have been increasing since 1976. Last year, blacks played crucial roles in the election of Democratic governors in Texas and New York and, according to Fauntroy, were pivotal in 9 of 26 districts where Democrats took House seats from Repubicans.
The all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus grew from 18 to 21 members, blacks gained a total of 17 more seats in state legislatures and there are black mayors in nearly 100 cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark, New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington.
In each of the last three presidential elections blacks have given between 85 percent and 87 percent of their votes to the Democratic nominee, and 20 percent of all votes cast for Democratic presidential nominees come from blacks, black leaders say.
In return, they complain, blacks made up only 15 percent of the delegates at the 1972 convention, 11 percent in 1976 and 14 percent in 1980. The Democratic National Committee, they add, has offered them far less assistance than they need for voter registration and has too few blacks on its executive committee. Only one state chairman is black--in the District of Columbia, where the electorate is 70 percent black.
"I can understand the high frustration that exists, particularly when a group of people delivers constantly to the party. They expect an equivalent response," said Ronald H. Brown, associate chairman of the DNC. But he said the party has not taken blacks for granted and has improved in recent years.
The presidential candidate considered most vulnerable to a black candidacy is front-runner Walter F. Mondale, to whom black support is especially critical in the South and who angered many blacks by campaigning against Washington in the Chicago primary.
George A. Dalley, Mondale's deputy campaign manager, said a black candidate could siphon off liberal support for Mondale, who Dalley said is most likely to win the nomination and the election and has the best record on issues affecting blacks.
Dalley said he did not think a black candidate was necessary.
But, Stokes said in a separate interview, "How do you say to black people that their legitimate aspirations should not be manifest through a black candidate for president of the United States.?"
Meanwhile, a coalition of more than a dozen Hispanic leaders met in Santa Fe last month to lay plans for a massive voter registration and power-wielding operation known as "Hispanic Force '84" and headed by Toney Anaya, the recently elected governor of New Mexico.
Hispanic voting strength is high in New York and four other states that send large delegations to the convention--Texas, California, Florida and Illinois.
Anaya said last week that the Hispanic Force group will raise money to contribute to presidential campaigns, try to double Hispanic registration to 7 million and question presidential candidates on issues affecting Hispanics, including representation in top administration policy-making positions.