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Candidate Courts Minority Voters : Black Leaders Find Issues Remain After Bush Parley

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Times Staff Writer

Vice President George Bush launched an effort to include minority voters within the ranks of his supporters by meeting Thursday with black leaders from across the nation, but the activists warned later that the session solved few of their concerns about his presidential candidacy.

“I came here with a great deal of hope that we’d find in Mr. Bush a new level of sensitivity to the devastation in the black community,” Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said after leaving the hourlong evening session.

“I have to say at this point that hope has not been fulfilled.”

Lowery and other black leaders who spoke with reporters outside Bush’s vice presidential residence, where the meeting took place, said they chiefly sparred with Bush on the issues of the size of the military budget compared to social program spending, on judicial appointments and the Justice Department, and on pressing concerns about education and drug abuse.

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Offers ‘Sensitivity’

While clearly leaving without having achieved a breakthrough consensus with Bush, the leaders did suggest that he offered to them a “sensitivity” that they felt lacking in President Reagan.

The most divisive issue facing the Bush campaign as it courts black voters, however, did not arise at Thursday’s meeting--Bush’s support of Reagan’s veto of a recent civil rights bill.

“We tried to focus on the fact that we were concerned about the future,” said Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks, executive director of the NAACP. “I don’t recall anybody specifically asking him to defend that which is indefensible. The Reagan Administration record on civil rights is not a record that anybody can defend.”

Bush sought the meeting with about 25 black leaders--a dozen more were invited but did not attend--in his long-shot effort to attract some of the nation’s black voters, who historically have shown loyal allegiance to the Democratic Party.

Devoid of Contact

But the vice president’s campaign has thus far been largely devoid of contact with the black community.

The meeting with black leaders was not only the first such gathering in the eight months since he became a declared candidate for the presidency, but it was also the largest such affair that his advisers could recall in recent years.

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His most prominent black adviser, however, defended the meeting as a “very good and meaningful dialogue.”

“It was very symbolic that George Bush, not Michael Dukakis, not any other candidate, was the first to think to invite civil rights leaders into his home to put the agenda of black people before him,” said Thaddeus Garrett, a senior adviser to the Bush campaign.

Termed ‘Good’ Session

Bush himself, in an answer called out to reporters, termed the session “very good.” “Some differences in there, but it was a very good friendly discussion,” Bush said.

Meeting participants stressed afterwards that Bush, to win even a nominal percentage of the black vote, must put forth a program that addresses basic concerns, rather than conducting the broad-brush sort of campaign seen thus far.

But Bush also came in for some praise, winning support for what participants said was a willingness to appoint Justice Department officials who are “open” to civil rights concerns. National Urban League President John E. Jacob said Bush suggested that his Justice Department would be staffed with “people who were bright and open and inclusive.”

“He suggested that he would not have an ideological litmus test that people would have to meet in order to be a part of his Administration,” Jacob said. “That is critical.”

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