Black legislator to be speaker of N.C. House

RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA — RALEIGH, N.C. -- When Representative Daniel T. Blue Jr. stepped to the well of the North Carolina House of Representatives yesterday to accept his party's nomination to be the modern-day South's first black speaker, it was the culmination of a career spent doing things "the North Carolina way" -- that is, through hard work and the polishing of a moderate image.

But paradoxically, the seeds of Mr. Blue's victory also were sown in Harvey Gantt's defeat last month by Sen. Jesse Helms.


The Helms-Gantt race for the U.S. Senate not only prompted a heavy turnout of black voters for Mr. Gantt but also sparked a backlash among many voters, who disagreed with Mr. Helms on abortion and other issues in normally Republican, suburban districts.

That contributed to the defeat of seven Republican House members, shattering the fragile coalition of Republicans and rebellious Democrats who last year elected Representative Josephus L. Mavretic speaker.


In the jockeying that followed, Mr. Mavretic threw the support of his Democratic followers behind Mr. Blue, and other potential rivals soon followed suit.

Yesterday morning, the 41-year-old graduate of North Carolina Central University and Duke University Law School was nominated unanimously, making his election by the full House on Jan. 30 a certainty. He will join California House Speaker Willie Brown as only the second black holding such an office in the nation.

Mr. Blue is a soft-spoken legislator who describes himself, in the typical fashion of Southern lawmakers, as "just a little country lawyer." Actually, he represents a House district that goes, in his words, "from the inner city to the Raleigh suburbs, from the homeless to million-dollar estates."

The key to Mr. Blue's success has been his ability to win the confidence of conservative white representatives.

Mr. Blue will need such support in the coming year, when the state faces a budget shortfall that could be as high as $1 billion.