Associated Press
February 21, 2000

Gore, Mrs. Clinton Court Minorities


ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- On the eve of a debate with Bill Bradley at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, Vice President Al Gore sought to reinforce his standing among New York's minorities in the Democratic presidential race.

Renewing his call for an end to racial profiling by police and passage of federal hate-crimes legislation, Gore told a largely black audience of more than 800 at an Albany church Sunday that the Republicans who hope to take the White House are ``morally blind'' to racial concerns.

Gore, campaigning for the first time this year in New York with first lady and Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, never mentioned Bradley.

The two rivals are to meet tonight at the Apollo, a Harlem landmark, in a 90-minute debate centering on urban and racial issues. Theater stage hands and management reached a contract agreement Sunday, averting a threatened strike that would have caused complications because both Gore and Bradley had vowed not to cross a picket line.

Bradley was at a Brooklyn school today, touting his health care and education plans.

Speaking to a mostly Hispanic crowd, Bradley said that of 44 million Americans who lack health insurance, nearly one-fourth are Hispanic.

Regarding Gore's criticism of his health plan, the former senator from New Jersey said, ``I am disappointed that Al Gore has attacked and distorted it. It casts doubt on his commitment to a basic plank in the Democratic platform.''

Bradley said he strongly supports bilingual education -- ``an important bridge to make more people participate more fully in American society.''

On Sunday, at the Wilborn Temple First Church of God in Christ, the vice president lambasted the Republicans in impassioned tones.

``There are those who have 20/20 vision who are morally blind. ... Some of those individuals just left the state of South Carolina,'' he said to laughter.

Citing the Confederate battle flag that flies over the South Carolina Statehouse, Gore paraphrased a Bob Dylan song and said, ``They looked at that flag and they turned their heads and pretended that they just didn't see.''

He said the GOP reaction -- rivals Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain have said the flag issue is something to be resolved by South Carolinians -- reminded him of those who say that America has become color blind.

``They use their color blind the way duck hunters use their duck blinds -- they hide behind it and hope the ducks won't know what they're up to,'' Gore said to cheers.

Bush said today, ``What Vice President Gore loves to do is the typical Washington politics of calling people names. He loves the politics of personal destruction, and America is sick of it. ... I look forward to challenging this kind of politics that is so stale and so negative.''

Gore and the first lady had warm words and hugs for each other.

``Her vision will make a difference ... I will stand up for her,'' he said. ``No one in America is more qualified to lead us than our vice president,'' Clinton said.

After the church appearance, Gore flew to New York City, where he met Sunday afternoon with the editorial board of The Amsterdam News, an influential black-oriented newspaper whose endorsement he is courting.

The three-hour church service was part of the annual weekend conference sponsored by the state Legislature's black and Hispanic caucus. Minorities made up 15 percent of voters in New York's 1998 election for governor and the Senate.

A big test of that minority voting power will come in the state's March 7 primary, which is considered a major showdown for Gore and Bradley, a former New York Knicks basketball star. Both have made major appeals to minorities in their bids for the Democratic nomination.

While there has been speculation that Gore and the first lady didn't want to be seen together as they work to escape the long shadow of President Clinton, aides to both have denied that is true.

In a brief interview Sunday with The Associated Press, Clinton said she was ``just honored to help him (Gore) in any way that I can. I was grateful for the chance to appear with him, because I don't get to see him so often now that he's all over the country.

``We used to work together very closely on a lot of issues. ... I'm very fond of him personally as well as very supportive of him as our next president.''

-- AP Writer Jesse J. Holland contributed to this report.

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