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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

Rep. Waters Holds Back Support of Ticket

August 15, 2000|GREG KRIKORIAN and RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Voicing concerns about Al Gore's selection of Joseph I. Lieberman as his running mate, Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said Monday that she is not prepared to back the two Democrats until they clarify the ticket's views on education, criminal justice and affirmative action.

"I want to support the ticket . . . [but] I am not quite there yet," Waters said as she entered a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus in downtown Los Angeles shortly before the Democratic National Convention opened a few blocks away.

Whatever the level of discontent, Gore supporters seemed ready to quickly address any concerns. Lieberman also was expected to speak to the black caucus members as early as today.

Labor Secretary Alexis M. Herman, who said she will address the black caucus today, said Monday: "I'm going to make sure that everyone understands that not only did Joe Lieberman march with Dr. King, he went to Mississippi to register African Americans to vote. You look at every vote in terms of standing up for affirmative action and equal opportunity on his record; he has stood with working families and for opening doors.

"I think it's just a few people" who are critical of the selection of Lieberman, Herman said. "It is not widespread. . . . [It] just tells us that we have to make sure that we work even harder to get the message out and to get the record out."

Most African American Democratic leaders have publicly rallied behind Gore's selection of Lieberman as his running mate; among those expressing support Monday for the senator from Connecticut was San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown. The Rev. Jesse Jackson did so as well at an Exposition Park rally in support of reparations for blacks to help erase the legacy of slavery.

And Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said that at a long-planned meeting Monday between black members of Congress and the American Israel Political Action Committee, the notion of any problems with Lieberman was not raised. "Every single member who spoke was very, very supportive of Sen. Lieberman," said Lewis, who said he will second Lieberman's nomination at the convention.

But the comments by the outspoken Waters crystallized worries among some liberal Democrats about Lieberman, who has backed efforts to end affirmative action and urged experimental use of school vouchers. A disenchanted Waters also could hurt Gore's chances of maximizing his support among black voters, given her national prominence.

Waters said she and many liberals were taken aback by Lieberman's selection. "We were caught pretty much off guard, so everybody is going back and pulling up the records and the records don't look too good right now," she said.

"All I need for Lieberman and Gore to do is clarify it for me. If they are adamantly and diametrically opposed to where I stand, I know what to do. I do nothing."

Waters stressed that her concerns about Lieberman, the first Jewish person picked for a national ticket, were purely ideological. "I wouldn't have any problems explaining him if he was true to our issues, if he conformed to what we think a public policymaker should be about."

Brown rose to the defense of the ticket, citing practical politics. "The ticket has to be appropriately marketed, but it is just as good a ticket as one could hope for in this day and age," Brown said.

Others agreed Monday.

"You may have one or two voices [of opposition], but the great majority of African Americans are going to support this ticket and people are going to turn out and vote like they never have before," Lewis said.

Added Rep. Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.): "I think we all are concerned that anyone would raise questions about affirmative action, but that is only one issue."

Some have praised the choice of Lieberman--known for his condemnation of excessive depictions of sex and violence in mass culture--as an effective way for Gore to distance himself from the Monica S. Lewinsky scandal.

But Waters scoffed at such reasoning, suggesting that Gore is overreacting.

"He is running from the accusation of the Republicans about Clinton's lack of morals. They have successfully, in his mind, tied Clinton around Gore's neck. . . . So [Gore and his allies] are running away from that and trying to prove that they are more moral than those moralist people who are accusing them of being immoral."

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