Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan has accused Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) of making a "racist declaration" that he suggested reflects the attitudes of white liberals who are uncomfortable with blacks who "hold to their own ideas."

In a speech to the National Association of Black Journalists in Los Angeles Friday night, Sullivan, who is black, made his strongest retort yet to Stark's description of him as "a disgrace to his race." Stark made that remark Thursday in assailing Sullivan's defense of Bush administration social and health policy. Responding to an eruption of criticism, Stark on Friday said he should not have injected race into his dispute with Sullivan but he continued to attack Sullivan for "carrying a bankrupt policy."

In his address to the journalists, Sullivan said, "The need and importance of these bonds {between blacks} were demonstrated anew yesterday with the racist declaration of a white member of Congress that black people are not permitted to be themselves, to define themselves, to hold to their own ideas, even when these ideas don't conform to the political positions we as blacks are 'supposed' to have.

"I refer to the incomprehensibly offensive charge" by Stark "that because I do not share his view of how best to address the healthneeds of poor and minority Americans, I am, therefore, and I quote, 'a disgrace to my race and my profession.'

"It is not just black people who recognize the congressman's indiscretion," Sullivan continued. "A prominent white businessman in this city said to me just today, 'There is nothing more arrogant than a rich white liberal.'

"I guess I should feel ashamed because Congressman Stark thinks I am not a 'good Negro.' Well, let me tell all the Pete Starks wherever they are in the Congress, in the boardrooms and, yes, even in the editorial and newsrooms, this is not the 1890s, this is the 1990s. And none of us can afford to have any more 'good Negroes.' No, this is a time for independent thinking for blacks and for all minorities. We must act in our self-interest as we define that to be. I have done that and I will continue to do it in the future."

Sullivan, whose speech was cheered by the journalists, said he feels deep frustration at being subjected to "race-based criticism by those who are not ready to accept independent thinking by a black man on issues affecting black people, affecting other minorities and affecting every American. We must combat this political subjugation as we have every other subjugation. I for one intend to go right on saying what I think."

Some Republican sources suggested privately that Stark's remark may give Republicans an opening to appeal to black voters by arguing that Democrats do not recognize the right of blacks to think for themselves.

Stark could not be reached for comment.

Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D) also jumped into the Sullivan-Stark dispute, telling the black journalists that Stark's statement that he should not have mentioned race was an inadequate response.

"It's like killing your lover, and at the same time you're firing the pistol three times, saying, 'I love you, I love you, I love you.' Nevertheless, they're still dead," Wilder said.

Wilder rejected charges that black politicians being scrutinized by the press are victims of a white conspiracy.