Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, obviously relishing the prospect of the Rev. Jesse Jackson running for mayor of Washington next year, Wednesday suggested that it would be good for Jackson, Washington and the Democratic Party if he makes the race.
As Brown sees it, the civil rights leader would be a shoo-in for election and would be well equipped to deal with the problems of drugs and violence plaguing Washington. Moreover, as mayor, Jackson, a polarizing force in the 1988 Democratic presidential race, would be effectively removing himself as a potential candidate for the party's nomination in 1992, according to Brown.
Jackson, who lives in Chicago but has spent a great deal of time in Washington and is renovating a home here, has said publicly that he does not plan now to run for the mayor's post. However, he has told associates privately that he is seriously considering the race, and they have circulated the word that he would run if Washington's embattled mayor, Marion Barry, does not seek reelection.
Barry, who has been investigated by a grand jury this year and come under constant political fire for associating with known drug figures, is under intense pressure from Washington business and political leaders to step down when his term ends next year. A Washington Post poll this week showed that Jackson, as well as former Washington Police Chief Maurice T. Turner Jr. and three other potential local candidates, would decisively defeat Barry in an election today.
Brown, the first black to head either major political party, discussed Jackson's potential candidacy for mayor and a wide range of other issues during a breakfast session with reporters and editors of The Times' Washington Bureau.
Rejecting suggestions that Jackson might be considered a carpetbagger who does not know much about local issues, Brown declared:
"I've heard all those arguments. I don't really buy them. . . . Jackson has a long connection with the city. He knows most of the political leadership here. He's been in and out of here for years. He probably knows about as much about the city as a lot of people who have lived here and run for mayor in the past."
Brown also predicted that despite strong opposition from several major civil rights organizations, the Senate will confirm the nomination of Detroit lawyer William Lucas to head the Justice Department's civil rights division.
The NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and People for the American Way, a liberal lobbying group, as well as the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 180 organizations, oppose the nomination on grounds that Lucas, a black former FBI agent and Wayne County, Mich., sheriff, lacks the legal and civil rights background for the job.
Brown, a former staff member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will recommend action on the Lucas nomination to the full Senate, remained neutral on the issue. But he pointed out that the nomination has split the civil rights community and that a number of blacks who strongly support civil rights favor Lucas. "My guess would be that Lucas would be confirmed," he said.
As for Jackson's potential candidacy for mayor, Brown noted that most analysts "have concluded that it would be good for Jackson and good for the city and good for the Democratic Party," and that he sees "some merit" in that conclusion.
Asked why Jackson would be good for Washington, Brown said he did not want to be an advocate for his candidacy, but added that knowing Jackson's qualities "he would be useful in any city--not just Washington." He is "a tremendous motivator of young people and inspirational for young people, and I think that would be terribly important in this city."
City Drug Problem
The drug problem in Washington is "of crisis proportion," Brown said, and if Jackson were mayor he would have "an opportunity to test some of his theories for dealing with it in a very direct way."
If Jackson were elected mayor in November, 1990, Brown said, he probably would be out of the 1992 presidential race. "I don't think it would be very credible to be inaugurated in January (1991) and to declare for the presidency that summer or fall," he said. "I would expect that he would be out in '92."
Some of Jackson's own advisers say they think he would be making a political mistake to run a third time for the presidential nomination in 1992 because he would face almost certain defeat. And as a thrice-defeated candidate at the age of 51, they say, he would have difficulty retaining national political influence.
On the other hand, Brown said that as mayor Jackson would have an opportunity to "enhance his persona as a national and international political figure" and strengthen his base for another bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1996.
"Washington is a city where international leaders come in and out all the time," Brown said. "I would suspect that their first stop would be the White House, second would be the State Department and third would be the District (of Columbia) Building if Jackson was the mayor."