Republican National Convention
Thursday, August 03, 2000

Blackwell part of attempt to 'reach out'




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        PHILADELPHIA — There was one question from the media here that Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell seemed to be tired of answering Wednesday.

        And that is saying something, because the ubiquitous quote machine that is J. Kenneth Blackwell almost never tires of answering questions from the media.

        But Wednesday morning, the Cincinnati Republican was asked several times whether he thought he had been asked to deliver a seconding speech for vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney because he is an African-American.

        The question was asked because the Bush campaign has seemingly trotted every black Republican in America onto the podium of the First Union Center since the convention gaveled to order Monday, all part of a campaign to convince minority voters that the party is not the party of white guys in suits that the Democrats portray it to be.

        Mr. Blackwell acknowledges that, yes, the Bush campaign wants to have African-Americans play a major role in this convention; and that, yes, he is one of the few black Republican elected officials at the statewide level in the United States.

        “That's part of it, but I think it is because I am known as a committed conservative who believes Dick Cheney could be president of the United States if need be,” Mr. Blackwell said.

        As it turns out, Mr. Blackwell couldn't second the nomination because he isn't a delegate. But it's significant that he was asked.

        A parade of African-American, Latino and Asian-Americans have made their ways to the podium to speak their lines in a convention that has been more closely choreographed than a Broadway show.

        But if you were here and had one of the yellow floor passes and stepped out on to the floor of the First Union Center any night this week, you could have pushed your way through the crowded aisles past hundreds of people and not seen a person of color.

        You could stand in front of entire state delegations and look across the faces and not see one person of color. And this includes states with large urban areas and diverse populations.

        Everybody at this convention has been talking about creating a “big tent” party where all races and creeds are welcome.

        Ohio, though, seems to be one of the few states that has done anything about it, with 20 African-Americans and several Hispanics among its 138-member delegation.

        Mr. Blackwell once worked at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under then-secretary Jack Kemp, the party's 1996 vice presidential nominee.

        We remember Mr. Kemp 20 years ago warning that the party had to reach out to people who were not white and comfortable if the party were to survive into the 21st century.

        Howard Wilkinson covers politics for the Enquirer.

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