WASHINGTON — Urging President-elect Bill Clinton to honor promises made to black and urban voters, the Rev. Jesse Jackson says that he expects the new Administration to create jobs for the unemployed and to seek statehood for the District of Columbia.
"Promises made should be promises kept," Jackson said repeatedly during a breakfast session at The Times' Washington bureau late last week.
Pressed to identify the promises that Clinton made to win overwhelming support from black Americans, Jackson cited the Arkansas governor's backing of "a massive economic stimulus program to put Americans back to work, with some targeted focus on those areas that need it most."
He added that Clinton, unlike President Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot, expressed support during the campaign for legislation to make the District of Columbia the nation's 51st state.
"So it seems to me that he has the opportunity in the first 100 days to be a Lyndon Johnson in that sense and not a Jimmy Carter--to be decisive and very fundamental in the structural changes," Jackson said, referring to the last two Democratic presidents.
He also called for legislation to provide universal health insurance, same-day voter registration and unpaid time off work for medical care and family emergencies.
Jackson, who ran for the White House in 1984 and 1988, expressed optimism at the return of a Democratic Administration but warned that he and more liberal political activists would feel betrayed if Clinton failed to deliver on his campaign promises.
Clinton and Jackson had a chilly relationship during the Democratic primaries. The two Democrats bickered publicly over Clinton's condemnation of rapper Sister Souljah's comments that blacks should set aside a week to kill whites instead of other blacks. Angered that the Arkansas governor issued his denunciation of Souljah at a forum hosted by Jackson's Rainbow Coalition, Jackson complained about Clinton's use of "push-off strategy" to isolate his campaign from Jackson as a calculated move to appeal to white voters.
But as Clinton's campaign grew stronger in its closing weeks, the relationship between the two men warmed. At the request of Democratic Party officials, Jackson traveled to more than 30 states to register voters and campaign for Clinton and other party candidates. On several occasions, Clinton and Jackson appeared together at campaign events.
David Wilhelm, manager of the Clinton campaign, has praised Jackson for working faithfully for Clinton's election.
"There may have been a few bumps along the road, but, when the moment came, Rev. Jackson was there and it is appreciated," Wilhelm told the Associated Press.
During the meeting with Times reporters and editors, Jackson also played down his past differences with Clinton, saying: "I'm delighted to be united."
Asked if he expects or wants a position in the Clinton Administration, Jackson demurred.
"I don't want to be on the staff," he said. "Staff punches clocks. If he honors his campaign for (D.C.) statehood, I'd rather work with him as a senator than work for him as a staff member."
Jackson serves as a "shadow senator" for the District of Columbia, lobbying for statehood without having the ability to cast a vote in the Senate or to enjoy other official privileges.
The civil rights leader claimed a measure of credit for Clinton's successful campaign strategy, arguing that Democratic voters returned to the party on a platform that included causes he has long advocated, including gay and lesbian rights, national health care, and increased taxes on wealthy Americans and foreign corporations.
"When you look at the basic agenda items (of the Clinton campaign), those who returned came back supporting a platform that was essentially the Rainbow '84-'88 planks," Jackson said. He was referring to conservative, white voters who crossed party lines to vote for President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and President Bush in 1988.
Jackson also said the new President should not be held accountable for efforts to curb crime and violence in the nation's inner cities.
"To assume that a President becomes the panacea for all of these aggravated illnesses is really to expect too much from somebody whose calling is not that," he said. "I think we who are trapped in it have got to address it. The government can be an ally in that process . . . but much of the leadership, at least figuring it out, must come from the bottom up, not the top down."