CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Vowing to turn out the black vote this fall, the NAACP ended its annual convention yesterday as Bob Dole accused the group's leader of having tried to set him up by inviting him to speak.
In his first explanation of why he didn't address the nation's largest civil rights group, Dole said he was unaware of the invitation, suggesting that staff members rejected it.
But Dole, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, said he probably would have received an unreceptive reaction from a group headed by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume. Calling Mfume "a very liberal Democrat," Dole said: "I think he was trying to set me up."
"We'll find a way to meet with the board of directors of the NAACP," Dole said on the syndicated radio program "Imus in the Morning." "I think some are my friends. I don't know that Mfume is one of them."
Mfume said in an interview that the NAACP is a nonpartisan group and that presidential candidates should "feel obliged enough to want to come and lay before us their agenda."
"The issue is not whether or not he likes me, but rather what we can do to make our country better," said Mfume, a former Democratic congressman from Maryland's 7th District who resigned in February to head the NAACP.
President Clinton received a warm welcome from NAACP delegates chanting "Four more years!" when he addressed the convention Wednesday. Clinton received 82 percent of the black vote in 1992, and a recent poll showed him with 85 percent this year.
However, Mfume said that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has problems with both major parties.
"Anytime you have a [Democratic] party that takes the African-American vote for granted in many instances and another [Republican] party that ignores us altogether, it says something is wrong with the system," he said.
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson told the convention that Dole's failure to appear was a "calculated tactic designed to galvanize a vote based on fear." He said Dole was trying to attract white voters who dislike the NAACP's support for affirmative action and other issues.
"To his advantage, Dole has gotten free publicity," Jackson said.
Told later of Dole's comments, Jackson said in an interview that "by attacking Kweisi, he's attempting to solidify his base among whites by using Kweisi as a foil."
Jackson accused Dole of trying to put economic issues in a racial context to distract attention from changes such as corporate downsizing and outsourcing of jobs that affect whites.
"The issue is more about have vs. have-not than white vs. black," he said.
Delegates said Dole would not have been mistreated by the NAACP convention.
"Dole would have been received with respect but not with admiration," said Hanley Norment of Silver Spring, president of the Maryland NAACP.
Janice Grant, president of the Harford County branch, said: "I think he feels he doesn't need us. This really tells us we need to register more people and educate them."
The NAACP passed a resolution calling for the group to register 1 million new black voters by November. An estimated 7 million eligible African-Americans are not registered.
However, the NAACP's Washington bureau, which has coordinated voter registration, is understaffed. Former director Wade Henderson left this spring to head the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights. Deputy Edward A. Hailes Jr. is leaving to join the U.S. Civil Rights Commission as deputy general counsel.
The six-day NAACP convention was the least contentious in several years. Mfume told the NAACP board that the group's deficit had been trimmed from $3.2 million to $900,000 and that he expects to wipe it out by fall.
"The patient is off the respirator, out of intensive care, and the prognosis is he or she will be going home very shortly," he said.
Mfume said he would begin in January a five-year drive to build a $50 million endowment to give the NAACP financial independence. The NAACP leader, who was hospitalized for two weeks in May with herniated disks in his spine, said his priority now was to return home to Baltimore and "just sleep for a day. I may go fishing."
Pub Date: 7/12/96