Presidential candidate George W. Bush will make campaign appearances here today but has no plans to address a conference of 6,000 minority journalists meeting at the same time to assess the progress of minorities in newsroom hiring and promotion.
Organizers of the Unity '99 conference, which opened Wednesday, said Bush told them his one-day trip to the Seattle area was so overbooked that he could not fit in a speech to delegates representing the nation's four leading minority journalism organizations.
Officials said every presidential candidate was invited but only Vice President Al Gore and Democratic candidate Bill Bradley are scheduled to speak during the meeting, which concludes Sunday. Former Sen. Bradley is expected to address the group today, while Gore will appear Friday during a plenary on "Race, Technology and the Future."
The Unity event is the second joint conference of the Asian-American Journalists Assn., the National Assn. of Black Journalists, the National Assn. of Hispanic Journalists and the Native American Journalists Assn. A similar gathering was held in Atlanta in 1994.
A Full Slate
Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign, said Unity officials had invited the Texas governor to attend months ago but that his visit to Seattle was so overbooked he couldn't satisfy all requests. "We had our local supporters in Washington organizing his schedule, and they had a lot of events planned," Tucker said.
She said no snub or hidden message should be read into his decision not to attend the convention. "Gov. Bush wishes the conference well," she said, adding that, if any journalist thinks otherwise, "I would hope they would call and find out first before saying or writing anything like that."
Bush will arrive in Seattle this morning, campaign officials said. He has two activities scheduled: a tour of the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County and a meeting with key supporters. Bush's schedule also includes a "media availability" following the tour of the club.
Tucker said campaign officials told the minority journalists May 25 that his schedule was set and wouldn't include an appearance at the conference.
As long lines of convention delegates assembled at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center on Wednesday, many voiced disappointment and even outrage at what some saw as a snub by the GOP front-runner.
"I guess we're not green," E. R. Shipp, a member of the black journalists group and an ombudsman at the Washington Post, said in a reference to Bush's prodigious fund-raising. "Even just a walk by and a wave to just show us some of his 'compassionate conservatism' wouldn't be so bad."
Hugo Ludena, a member of the National Hispanic Journalists Assn. and a photographer for Seattle-based Latino Northwest Magazine, said he was disappointed to hear that Bush was not expected to appear. "He should take advantage of this and bring his word to the people who will cover his campaign."
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst and professor at Claremont Graduate University in California, said Bush's decision to steer clear of a convention center filled with reporters may have less to do with race than with his apparent avoidance of unscripted public gatherings.
"He's going out of his way to avoid uncontrolled situations with journalists," she said. "I'm not sure he's ready for prime time before aggressive reporters, and I think he knows it. His decision not to attend that convention may not reflect his thinking on race, but just the fact that he's uncomfortable out there in a free fall without a net."
Perhaps that's his thinking, said Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School who has strong ties to Democratic candidates. But whatever the reason, Bush's decision represents a political miscalculation, he said.
"It may not be racially motivated, but his refusal to show up here and to be in town at the same time will have racial significance. In light of his expressed interest in diversity, he has missed a great opportunity to meet and greet the people who will define him to minority communities for the year to come."