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Voices Concern About ‘Latent Racism’ and Working Homeless : Quayle Promises to Help GOP Shed Uncaring Image

Times Staff Writer

Vice President-elect Dan Quayle, insisting that his own image has been badly distorted, has vowed to help reposition the Republican Party and “cast aside this stereotype image that Republicans somehow don’t care” about the inner-city poor and minorities.

And last Friday, he demonstrated at least a rhetorical sensitivity that often has been missing from the Reagan Administration, expressing concern about “latent racism” in America and saying that he found it a “startling fact” and a “sad comment” that 25% to 30% of the homeless “are working and can’t afford a home.”

“It’s not by choice, not by desire. A lot of these people work,” he said of the homeless. “It’s hard to think . . . that in America someone that works can’t afford a home, can’t afford housing, and that’s something that has to be changed.”

Part of GOP Strategy

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Quayle’s comments, in an interview Friday that was being released today, appear to reflect a role he will play as vice president. Republican strategists hope that as a young, energetic and attractive campaigner, he can serve as a party leader for the next generation, broadening the GOP’s current white, male, Protestant base.

At the same time, Quayle’s statements and background suggest that he has only limited experience with the sorts of voters the party hopes he will be able to reach.

Both President-elect Bush and Lee Atwater, Bush’s choice for party chairman, have warned that the GOP must either change with the changing demographics of the nation or resign itself to permanent minority status.

In keeping with that goal, Quayle’s sympathetic statements about the problems of racism and the homeless were a marked contrast to those often made by Reagan Administration officials, including the President. Reagan, for example, only recently reiterated his view that many homeless people live on the streets as a matter of choice.

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May Confront Skepticism

Nonetheless, Quayle may face a measure of skepticism about his own credentials as the Republican Party’s ambassador to cities and minority groups.

To begin with, he is the product of a state that is overwhelmingly white, Protestant and traditionally Republican. The Indiana electorate is about 8% black. And Quayle said his own polls show that in his 1986 Senate race, when he won 61% of the total vote, his approval rating among black voters was about 35%.

When asked if he had any black advisers, Quayle cited an advisory committee on minority issues that he met with “once or twice a year” as a senator from Indiana. But he could remember the name of only one member.

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Will Listen to People

And after saying that the new Administration needs to “crusade on these issues"--drugs, homelessness, high school dropout rates--he repeatedly declined to offer any specific policy suggestions for such a crusade. His job, Quayle said, will be to listen to what people say who are “out where these problems exist.”

More Than Money

Asked about the possibility of the Bush Administration seeking increased federal resources for problem areas, a suggestion frequently made by big-city mayors, Quayle said: “I hope we don’t get into this situation of saying only money counts.”

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And his public image--an unfair perception, he insists--remains that of a sheltered scion of a wealthy family with little knowledge of the country’s less affluent sections. Even his vice presidential campaign manager, longtime California political consultant Stuart K. Spencer, said during the campaign that Quayle knew little about the people or problems of the inner cities.

Spencer’s statement was “just flat-out wrong,” Quayle said.

The truth, the vice president-elect said in the interview, is that he has considerable expertise on such issues as education and unemployment.

Changing his negative image is the first task Quayle has taken on. After a campaign in which he was shunted more and more out of the spotlight as Election Day neared and a post-election period of avoiding all on-the-record interviews, Quayle and his advisers have decided that the time has come to re-emerge publicly.

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Aims for New Profile

“I made a calculated decision” to avoid publicity after the end of a “difficult” campaign, Quayle said. Now, with Inauguration Day approaching, “I will have a different profile.”

To build the new profile, Quayle has begun a blizzard of press and television interviews all timed to run during the week of the inauguration.

Next, he says, will come speeches and some political events, including fund-raisers for some of his House and Senate friends, some of which he said already had been scheduled, although he declined to discuss details.

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After that, Quayle said, he hopes to visit some cities, traveling to poor neighborhoods to talk, particularly with children, about the problems they face with drugs, poor schools and crime. He said that he hopes to be able to sit down in small groups and ask such questions as “why is crime acceptable?” as a way of life in some communities.

“I’ve got a good track record” on issues such as unemployment and urban poverty, he insisted. The record, he said, is unknown to much of the public because “they have not been told.”

Alludes to His Record

While he did not discuss such issues during the campaign and almost never visited a major city, “the campaign was three months, and my legislative record is eight years. You take your choice.”

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Meanwhile, both he and Bush’s aides insist that Quayle will be included in the decision-making of the Administration-to-be.

“The only Cabinet appointment that I did not give my prior advice on was secretary of state,” for which Bush chose his close friend and campaign manager James A. Baker III, Quayle said. In addition, he said, he has been promised full access both to Bush and to the paper work that flows through the Oval Office, a pledge reiterated Friday by John H. Sununu, Bush’s designee as chief of staff.


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