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Blacks Continue To Support Clinton

September 17, 1998

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Standing at a street stall brimming with colorful ties and crafts, merchant Charles Odoi mused about the sex scandal afflicting President Clinton.

His opinions about Clinton are molded more by the president’s Africa policy than whether Clinton perjured himself or obstructed justice.

``Can you imagine President Reagan visiting Africa?″ the 25-year-old Uganda native says with a chuckle.

Down the street, law clerk Cicely Bricoe, who also is black, views the Clinton affair through a prism of forgiveness. ``He made a mistake, but who am I to judge him?″ she says.

Charles Wilkerson, a black radiology technician, says his notions on the president are framed by inclusion, not infidelity. ``I see Clinton has brought in more minorities and women than anyone else,″ he said. ``This mess about two consenting adults having sex is another matter.″

These voices from downtown Washington reflect public opinion polls that show blacks standing firm as Clinton’s most loyal supporters despite the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Clinton’s support among black members of Congress also remains strong, reflected in the vote of black legislators Friday on whether to make public Independent Counsel Kenneth’s Starr’s report on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

Of the 35 Congressional Black Caucus members voting, 29 opposed releasing the report. The document was released by a 363-63 vote overall.

``This president will not be railroaded if the Congressional Black Caucus has anything to do with it,″ caucus Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., said in an interview.

For many blacks, the scandal is being put on one side of an old-fashioned balancing scale.

Clinton comes out a winner when the other side is weighted with positive sentiments about the president’s urban policy, focus on race relations, attention to African affairs and his record numbers of black federal appointments.

``That’s his personal life,″ said Nicole Alaya, 23, a secretary at the World Bank who shared a burrito lunch with co-worker Tricia Fields. ``I’m not happy if he lied under oath, but you have to look at the whole picture. And overall, he’s been pretty good.″

Fields chimed in: ``Clinton didn’t offend the country. He offended his wife and family and they should be the ones to deal with him. I’m not saying what he did is OK, but it isn’t an impeachable offense.″

A discordant note came from Gregory Holland, who manages a law firm. He said Clinton is getting ``a free ride″ from blacks who are too forgiving of his flaws.

``It was the same thing with Kennedy. We all knew he was running around with other women but we still treated him like a saint,″ Holland said. ``I don’t know if we’re more tolerant of infidelity, but it burns me up we are so forgiving all the time.″

While America’s 34 million blacks are by no means a monolith in thought or deed, surveys and interviews show that black America’s support for Clinton remains strong.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted after the release last week of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on Clinton’s affair with Ms. Lewinsky said 77 percent of blacks believed the president shared the moral values of most Americans, compared with 63 percent of whites.

The poll also said 81 percent of blacks blamed Clinton’s political enemies for the current situation, compared with 55 percent of whites.

Part of Clinton’s attraction for blacks may stem from their dissatisfaction with his predecessors.

Television and radio personality Tavis Smiley said that after the Reagan-Bush years, Clinton was a refreshing change for black Americans.

``Black people support the president because, by and large, he supports us,″ said Smiley, host of his own talk show on BET and a commentator on radio’s ``Tom Joyner Morning Show,″ the country’s most popular urban radio program with 7 million listeners.

``He’s not perfect on all the issues but it’s no comparison to the torture of the Reagan-Bush years,″ Smiley said. ``We don’t ever want to repeat that again.″

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