The Democratic National Committee's Black Caucus tonight heard the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's pitch for his prospective presidential candidacy, and unanimously declared that it would be "more than appropriate" for a black candidate to enter the race.
Although several of the 30 black Democratic politicians from around the country voiced questions about the purpose of the Chicago civil rights activist's run, there was no objection when former Colorado lieutenant governor George Brown said it was "important we don't do anything to hinder the advancement of this proposition."
Brown offered the resolution calling such a bid "more than appropriate" and "welcoming all who wish to avail themselves of this process."
Later, two District of Columbia Democratic leaders raised questions about the strategy for a black candidacy.
National Committeewoman Sharon Pratt Dixon said, "We've already been enriched by the mere possibility of his candidacy, but as politicians we must ask, 'To what end?'
"Are we just trying to increase registration? Are we making some kind of statement on our agenda? Or are we trying to reach a bargaining position with the Democratic nominee who has the best chance of defeating Ronald Reagan? When I understand the objective, I can better evaluate the strategy."
Ted Gay, chairman of the District Democratic Party, observed that "The name of the game is going to be delegates, and if we don't participate on as many levels as possible, we'll find we don't have many votes."
Later, Gay said blacks should have "a key person" with every candidate, adding that if there is going to be a black in the race, Jackson "would not be my first choice."
Dixon, on the other hand, said she expected the candidate to be Jackson "because the whole process is coalescing around him" and its objective would be "to galvanize black voters" for the Democrats.
The possibility of Jackson's candidacy, which he is expected to announce in September, has been a major focus at this final meeting of the DNC before next July's national nominating convention. The black caucus was opened to the news media for the first time, and television lights bathed Jackson as he made his pitch for support, without declaring his candidacy.
"We have moved from the back of the party to center stage of the entire meeting--and maybe the entire nation and world," said Jackson, who is to address all of the nearly 400 DNC members Friday.
While emphasizing the importance of the voter registration drive he has been leading in southern states the past few weeks, Jackson made clear that his objectives in running would go further.
"To assume a black candidacy is for blacks only is ridiculous," he said. "We're way beyond that stage." He said a black candidacy could help the Democrats defeat President Reagan and elect more blacks and "progressive" whites to Congress.
Despite the green light Jackson was given tonight, several prominent black politicians expressed reservations. Rep. Mickey Leland (D-Tex.), chairman of the DNC Black Caucus, told reporters before the meeting he feared that Jackson would draw votes from liberal white candidates, particularly former vice president Walter F. Mondale, and help more conservative candidates, particularly Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). Leland did not push that argument in the caucus, however.
Clarence Lightner, the Mondale co-chairman in North Carolina, criticized Jackson for not making his plans known before many "pragmatic" blacks like himself had signed up with other candidates.
Saying he realized that not all black politicians can go along with a Jackson candidacy, Ohio state Sen. Morris Jackson explained that he supported it as a way to "broker" increased consideration for blacks by Democratic leaders. "We've been so complacent, the Democratic leadership has taken black voters for granted," he said. "A lot of people are going to sit up and take note of what Jesse Jackson does."