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‘92 DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION : 3 Keynote Speakers Profiled

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a break with tradition, Democratic Party officials decided that three short speeches would be better than one long one to get their national convention off to a rousing start tonight. Accordingly, three keynoters were named, with each expected to speak about 12 minutes. Here is a brief look at the featured speakers:

Zell Miller

At Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Little Rock, Ark., they have been talking about Zell Miller’s keynote address for days.

A senior aide to Clinton predicted that the Georgia governor’s speech “will be the best of the convention, except for Bill’s.” Asked to elaborate, the aide simply said, “Just wait.”

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To most of tonight’s nationwide convention audience, Miller is a virtual unknown. But among party insiders, he has developed a reputation as a powerful speaker, combining country-boy charm with forceful style.

It was more than just his skill at the microphone, however, that earned Miller his place in the spotlight. Miller, 60, was among the first to endorse Clinton. More important, his maneuver to move the Georgia primary up one week--to March 3--provided a crucial boost for the presumptive nominee’s campaign. It allowed Clinton to score a high-profile win when he needed it and provided the momentum that helped him sweep other Southern primaries on March 10, Super Tuesday.

Several recent moves seemed to hint that Miller was positioning himself for a prominent convention appearance--and, if things go well for the Democrats in November, a presidential appointment, Georgia political observers say.

Earlier this year, he named the first black woman to Georgia’s Supreme Court. Then he announced that he would push the Georgia General Assembly to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag--a proposal long resisted by rural white legislators but long sought by blacks. And just last month, Miller abruptly settled a 4-year-old federal lawsuit expected to result in a dramatic increase in the state’s number of black Superior Court judges.

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Miller was born to politics in the small north Georgia town of Young Harris, which is nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. His father--who died when he was just 17 days old--had been a state senator. His mother served 25 years on the City Council, including two terms as mayor.

Miller, a Marine veteran, served in the state Senate in the early 1960s. In 1974, he was elected lieutenant governor.

Miller ran for governor in 1990 on a platform that stressed one issue--his advocacy of a state lottery. The issue allowed him to distinguish himself from foes that included former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young and win the Democratic primary.

Ignoring detractors who labeled him “Zig Zag” Zell--charging that he waffled between liberal and moderate positions--he used the lottery issue again to beat his Republican foe in the general election.

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Miller and his wife of 36 years have two sons and four grandchildren. In addition to his passion for politics, the governor is something of a culture aficionado. He is an avid music fan, listening to Mozart as well as country.

He also pursues a lifelong hobby of collecting and documenting Appalachian lore.

Bill Bradley

When Bill Bradley steps to the podium to deliver his keynote speech, high above him will be a symbol of what helped launch the New Jersey senator’s political career.

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Hanging in the rafters at Madison Square Garden will be a flag emblazoned with a red 24, the number Bradley wore when he was a star forward with the New York Knicks basketball team.

The juxtaposition is not entirely accidental. Convention officials, noticing last week that Bradley’s jersey would be obscured by the podium design, swapped it with another one to enhance what should be one of Bradley’s most satisfying moments in the spotlight.

Bradley, 48, was the quintessential athlete/scholar before he entered politics. A high school basketball star who got 75 college scholarship offers, he was an All-American at Princeton University and a Rhodes scholar. After studying at England’s Oxford University, he spent 10 years with the Knicks.

Although his celebrity as an athlete helped get him elected to the Senate in 1978, he has earned a reputation as a skilled legislator. In the mid-1980s, Bradley relentlessly pursued reform of the U.S. tax laws and more recently has been urging a new emphasis on resolving racial conflict. He is widely viewed as one of the most thoughtful members of Congress.

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For some Democrats, in fact, Bradley was an obvious choice to be the party’s 1992 presidential nominee. But as he did in 1988, he resisted efforts to get him into the race. His reasons this year were rooted in his near-loss to an unknown Republican in his 1990 reelection race. In an effort to shore up his standing, he promised New Jersey voters that he would devote his full energies to his Senate duties.

A native of Crystal City, Mo., a small town south of St. Louis, Bradley was the only child of the local bank president and a community activist mother. In his autobiography, “Life on the Run,” he wrote, “As early as I can remember, I was programmed to become a successful gentleman.”

He certainly didn’t lack for training: He took lessons in dancing, trumpet, French horn, piano, boxing, tennis, golf, swimming, canoeing, typing, French and horseback riding. But the suburban kid found his greatest rewards in basketball.

Bradley, known for a plodding speaking style but a supreme intellect, came to the Senate having never toiled in the trenches of a state legislature or a city council. Apparently with this in mind--and in an effort to shake his jock image--he spent his early years in Washington trying to become known as a serious student of government. A Washington Post reporter wrote, “He earned a reputation as a bona fide bore.”

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He began his quest to rewrite the tax laws in 1981 and spent five years at it. Although he had established an unspoken rule in his early years in the Senate that no one should talk to him about basketball, he played a full-court game with colleagues as a way to draw them into his crusade.

His efforts helped lead to passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986. While he is not credited with all elements of the legislation, he is responsible for significant parts.

BarZell Millerbara Jordan

She has done this before.

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Barbara Jordan’s deep, authoritative voice rolled through the Democratic convention hall in 1976, electrifying delegates and captivating television audiences.

Now 56, the black former representative from Texas will ascend the podium tonight to address her fellow Democrats. It has been 16 years since she last delivered a keynote address to her party and even longer since she served on the House Judiciary Committee that adopted impeachment charges that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in the Watergate scandal.

Only a freshman in the House at the time, she gained a national following. Few who watched the committee hearings would forget her indignant voice booming: “My faith in the Con-sti-tu-tion is whole. It is complete. It is total.”

With a political future that looked immensely promising, Jordan--just two years after her keynote speech at the New York convention that nominated Jimmy Carter--announced that she would not run for a fourth House term.

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A slow, progressive disease that now keeps her confined to an electric cart seemed to many the key to withdrawal from the political fray, although Jordan herself has never acknowledged that her health had anything to do with it. She has never identified the illness.

Although she fiercely guards her privacy and lives quietly near Onion Creek, Tex., Jordan, who is unmarried, is far from anonymous. For several years, she has taught government at the University of Texas at Austin. She is still consulted by congressional leaders. Groups ranging from the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee to Texas Kiwanis clubs bestow awards on her. And among the many calls she gets is an occasional one from George Bush.

Just last year, the President sought her endorsement for the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. “I had to call and tell the President I could not support Judge Thomas,” she told Texas columnist Molly Ivins.

Jordan was born in Houston’s toughest ghetto, the city’s Fifth Ward. Her father, a Baptist minister, taught his daughter always to check her anger, never to lose control. Although her youth was spent in the Jim Crow era, she did not join the marches of the early civil rights movement. Instead, she joined the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People and, after hearing a black woman lawyer speak to the group, decided that she wanted to join the legal Establishment. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from the all-black Texas Southern University, she went to Boston University Law School.

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She practiced law briefly and then went into politics. Her first two attempts at running for local office failed, and she was about to leave the state when the Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote ruling forced the Texas Legislature to create new districts in the 1960s. In 1966, she became the first black elected to the Texas Senate.


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