Bill Bradley came courting Jesse L. Jackson and about 1,000 of his followers in the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition today, issuing a forceful argument for policies of broader racial inclusion and mentioning in passing that he would be "honored" to have Jackson's endorsement in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Bradley, who has made race a central issue in his campaign, condemned racial profiling by police and said he would outlaw it. He advocated national health insurance for all Americans. He backed tough hate crime legislation and called for more multiracial coalitions to address the nation's social problems.
The former New Jersey senator was received warmly and enthusiastically by the gathering of civil rights leaders, urban activists and labor union officials at the coalition's 28th annual conference here, but no endorsement was offered. Jackson said it is still the "exhibition season."
Vice President Gore, who is scheduled to address the organization Saturday, has been increasingly reaching out to African American groups, and Bradley's appearance here today was clearly intended to show that he planned to be competitive among black voters.
"I have a close personal relationship with Al Gore," said Jackson, whose son, Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), benefited from Gore's campaign help when he successfully ran for Congress from Chicago's South Side in 1995. "But I am close to Bill Bradley, too," Jackson added in an interview. "Much of the range [Gore] has will be to his advantage, but we won't have a full appreciation of Bradley's range until the season begins in earnest."
He reiterated that the question is not whom he will endorse, but who will endorse the positions his coalition is advancing. "Let them make their case," said Jackson, who decided earlier this year not to make a third try for the nomination.
Bradley said he had come to Chicago knowing that a Jackson endorsement "was not going to happen today. What I hoped to accomplish was share a little bit about what I am with people who are committed to economic adjustment in America and sharing the American Dream among all people."
In his speech, Bradley sought to reach out to liberals and distinguish himself from both Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) on such issues as racial profiling, the practice of law enforcement officers targeting blacks and other minorities for possible criminal offenses without evidence of involvement.
Noting that Gore had said that if elected he would sign a bill ending racial profiling, Bradley said, "I say, `Mr. Vice President, why wait? Walk down the hall, put the executive order in front of the president and ask him to sign it.' " Then, noting that Bush appeared to oppose proposed hate crime legislation in Texas, he said, "I said I'd make this an issue and I will."
"I'm staking my campaign on a belief that a majority of Americans want to have racial unity in this country," he declared.
Bradley, whose speech was interrupted frequently by applause from the largely African American audience, said that reducing the number of children living in poverty should be the "North Star of our society," and "getting as close as possible" to universal health insurance would be a major goal if he was elected.
He urged more racial diversity in business, saying that there are thousands of qualified blacks, Hispanics and Asians who could be sitting on corporate boards. He also called for a national "narrative" that explains to people of all races that they can obtain a share of America's prosperity, and said it is the duty of a president to provide that explanation.
"If more of us realize that multiracial coalitions can come together . . . it is building a holy lighthouse that will last 1,000 years," Bradley said.
Jackson then leaped to his feet, declaring: "Let's hear a big hand for the holy lighthouse."