ST. LOUIS -- National Urban League president Marc Morial got endorsements from the three leading Democratic presidential hopefuls for the group's agenda, which focuses on children's welfare, jobs, homeownership and entrepreneurship.
Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards all endorsed the league's 27-page "Opportunity Compact" while speaking Friday to the group's convention.
Morial didn't ask Rep. Dennis Kucinich -- another Democratic presidential contender -- whether he would endorse the compact. But the objectives the former Cleveland mayor articulated seem to fall into line with the Urban League's policy priorities.
"What we've seen is an elevation of urban issues in the political discourse of this campaign," Morial said after the presidential forum had ended.
He thanked those candidates who "honored us with their presence," saying "those who were not here were invited" -- both Democrats and Republicans -- in a series of letters, e-mails and phone calls since November.
"We're going to continue to court them," he said, adding that the group wants all the candidates to embrace the Urban League's public policy priorities.
Speaking to a predominantly black audience, Kucinich pledged to turn President Bush's foreign policy upside down if he were elected to the White House.
Kucinich characterized Bush's approach, particular in Iraq, as "a doctrine of peace through strength."
"I'm talking about inverting that -- strength through peace" by stressing diplomacy, international laws and cooperation with other countries, Kucinich said.
Kucinich has proposed to create a Cabinet level position overseeing a new department of peace and nonviolence that would address issues such as domestic violence, child abuse and gang and gun violence.
He received hearty applause from the 1,400 people in the auditorium, but some acknowledged they didn't know who he was. Kucinich went virtually unnoticed as he walked through the crowd -- holding hands with his wife, Elizabeth Harper -- about 30 minutes before his speech.
Attorney Nicole Whittington of Philadelphia was caught off guard by Kucinich. She at first wondered if he was an obscure Republican candidate.
"I had never heard of him," she said. But "he's very in tune with us. I was pleasantly surprised."
Clinton and Obama criticized the federal government's role in helping to rebuild parts of New Orleans so that the predominantly low-income, Black residents can return to their homes.
Asked what she would do differently, Clinton pledged to place a staff member in the White House specifically assigned to Hurricane Katrina recovery.
"I would put one person in charge that would be held accountable for making progress on cleaning up, getting people back home, and making sure we've mitigated against future damage," Clinton said, "and that person would be in the White House, and I would meet with that person every single day."
Obama said his own election could go a long way in healing some of the feelings of racial polarization that became apparent in the response to Hurricane Katrina.
"The day a minority becomes president," Obama said while raising his right hand as if taking the oath of office, "the country looks at itself differently. Don't underestimate that power of transformation."
Obama said improved economics -- ensuring young people are going to school, getting good jobs, starting businesses and are living in good communities -- also would go a long way toward lessening racial tension.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke Friday in Philadelphia at an annual meeting for conservative state lawmakers.
But he almost was the lone Republican at the National Urban League's presidential forum on Friday. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California canceled Thursday. Huckabee flew into St. Louis Thursday night to meet with Urban League board members.
"I wasn't snubbing the event," he said. "I made a significant effort to be here."
Huckabee said in 10 1/2 years as governor, he built "as strong a record as any for opening opportunities for all people," including first-ever appointments to key Cabinet positions.
Though Blacks are 17 percent of Arkansas' population, Huckabee said he ensured that 30 percent of the state's tobacco settlement money was spent addressing health concerns of Black residents.
"Largely I came out of a family that barely eked out a living," he said. "I'm not an affluent Republican who grew up with a silver spoon. I know how hard it is to get ahead."
--The Associated Press