WASHINGTON -- Rev. Jesse Jackson has edged closer to a potential bid for the presidency by announcing his participation in a first-ever urban presidential straw poll in November.
Voters in 20 cities, including Baltimore, will be asked to pick their favorite presidential candidates in the CityVote presidential preference election Nov. 7. CityVote was conceived as a way to spotlight urban concerns in the presidential selection process. Mr. Jackson chose the 32nd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech to alert the White House -- and a throng of presidential candidates -- to his participation in the poll and to remind them of his possible presidential bid.
He said he will use the CityVote polling and urban forums scheduled to precede it to raise issues he thinks are being ignored by the Clinton administration, and the major Republican candidates for the presidency.
Atop that list are poverty, violence and a lack of jobs now plaguing America's cities -- conditions that were just beginning to appear on the national agenda when King led a half million marchers to the Washington Monument in 1963.
Mr. Jackson said yesterday that the CityVote poll was conceived by mayors as a way to force candidates to address the problems of American cities.
Mr. Jackson is the first confirmed participant.
A candidate in two prior presidential races, Mr. Jackson remained elusive about his intentions for the already-crowded field in 1996. He stressed that he has until next June to decide whether to run as an independent candidate.
"The bigger factor is the continuous need to apply pressure, to get urban policy back in the center of our national debate," he said. "I will be a part of the equation no matter what," he added, urging President Clinton to call a summit on urban issues and to include his organization -- and groups it represents -- in the discussion.
Don Reeder, spokesman for the straw poll, said he expects several candidates will participate in forums preceding the November CityVote, but that Mr. Jackson's involvement "will help to enhance the dialogue."
Larry Agran, executive director of CityVote, said that the straw poll was a way to empower the nearly 60 percent of the country that lives within city limits. It also would get the candidates a lot closer to urban problems, he said.
"Maybe if some of these people looked the children in the face, they would moderate their budget-cutting zeal," said Mr. Agran, former mayor of Irvine, Calif.
There is no way that Mr. Jackson could lose by participating in the straw poll, said Ronald Walters, chairman of the Howard University political science department and a Jackson adviser.
Mr. Jackson's natural constituency are the poor and minority in cities, said Mr. Walters. And it allows him a chance to register voters, sharpen his message and get organized for any run for office.
Mr. Jackson noted that yesterday also was the anniversary of the vTC death of Emmett Till, a teen-ager lynched in Mississippi 40 years ago, an event he said should remind Americans of justice denied for poor blacks who are most often beset by crime and unemployment.