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Media Coverage
Richmond Faces Hard Call
January 9, 1998


Friday, January 9, 1998
Section: Opinion
Page: A13
Column: Editorials

The time has come for the Richmond City Council to follow its head and not its heart in the matter of affirmative action: Withdraw with grace and honor from further support of minority preferences.

Accept the fact that this battle is over. A majority of California voters decided the issue in passing Proposition 209. Preferences lost. Continuing to go against the grain of public rejection is futile and divisive.

The issue is not whether affirmative action is right or wrong. That question has been debated with passion, persuasion and persistence for a long time. It may never be decided on the basis of emotions.

The issue for the Richmond City Council is accepting reality. The city could be sued if it persists in what non-minority plaintiffs see as unfair treatment of them under Proposition 209, the statewide mandate that ended preferences in public education, hiring and contracting. The measure passed in November 1996.

Lawsuits have become more likely as Proposition 209 has withstood legal challenges. In August, a temporary stay in enforcing the law was lifted by federal courts. In November, the U. S. Supreme Court declined to consider the law's constitutionality.

That did it. For all practical purposes, the city of Richmond is now wide open to legal challenges because of its hiring and contracting procedures.

Accepting this reality will be hard for City Council members. Most have long been firm and consistent supporters of affirmative action programs. They see such programs as fair and effective ways to bring a share of power and the purse to women and the 64 percent of the city's population that is non-white.

A decision now to pull back from this stance could also be agonizing from a political standpoint.

Proposition 209 was opposed by 73 percent of Richmond voters. Although that is a potent statistic locally, it means little in a larger context. Voters statewide decided they had had enough of affirmative action. And that decision holds for the whole state; Richmond must accept the decision of the majority.

Acknowledging this fact will be a heart-wrenching decision for most members of the diverse nine-member Richmond City Council. Four are women; five are men. Four members are black; one is Hispanic; one is of Middle Eastern descent. Only Councilman Tom Butt does not fall into a group protected by affirmative action.

There should be no political fallout from a council decision at this time to reluctantly withdraw from further support of affirmative action. Members' hearts have been in this struggle and that should be remembered. Prudent leadership out of the potential quagmire of bitter and costly litigation should be applauded, not condemned.