Kerry Affirmative Action Stand Lambasted; Senator Says 1992 Speech Reflected Critics' Views

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Miller, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Continuing an assault begun by Wesley Clark, black officials yesterday condemned Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. John Kerry and a 1992 speech the candidate made disparaging affirmative action.

Mr. Kerry was not counted as an ally when affirmative action was under siege in Congress, Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, said yesterday, speaking as a supporter of Mr. Clark.

"We had a number of allies on the Senate side, and I would not number Mister Kerry among them," Mr. Jefferson said. "There was a time that we were not sure at all of the fate of affirmative action and other programs to achieve equality in this country. That was when we really needed allies and when we really saw who our true friends were."

Mr. Kerry said in a 1992 speech at Yale that "Today the civil rights arena is controlled by lawyers and the winners and losers determined by ... rules most Americans neither understand nor are sympathetic with. ... This shift in the civil rights agenda has directed most of our attention and much of our hope into one inherently limited and divisive program: affirmative action."

He also said that the policy developed by the Nixon administration brought about a "culture of dependency."

Mary Frances Berry, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that when she heard Mr. Kerry's comments at the time, "I was quite disturbed. ... [The speech] was peppered with racial innuendo."

Mr. Kerry was also challenged on his stance on affirmative action last fall by Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who dropped out of the race earlier this month.

The dispute began anew during a candidate debate Thursday in South Carolina, where the candidates are battling to win a portion of the state's considerable black vote. …