Subdued Welcome For Bush At Indiana Black Expo

(INDIANAPOLIS) -- President Bush drew a subdued reaction Thursday from the crowd at an Indiana Black Expo luncheon, an event he decided to speak before rather than attend the NAACP convention.

Bush was greeted with a standing ovation and the crowd of about 3,000 people at the RCA Dome applauded several times during his speech, during which he touted his efforts to grow the economy and improve the opportunities available to all Americans.

"I see an America where every person of every race has the opportunity to strive for a better future and to take part in the promise of America -- that's what I see," Bush said. "And I believe the government has a role to play in helping people gain the tools they need to build lives of dignity and purpose."

Bush received the Expo's Lifetime Achievement award for such things as supporting additional AIDS research, backing efforts to help offenders re-enter society after being released from prison, and creating more health centers in underserved areas, said Expo spokeswoman Alpha Garrett.

Bush recognized several dignitaries in attendance, with the crowd giving a sustained standing ovation to Rep. Julia Carson, a black Democrat from Indianapolis who traveled on Air Force One with the president from Washington.

As people filed into the stadium, they passed about 50 protesters standing nearby. One protester had a sign that said, "Black Expo sells out to corporate cronies."

Bush was introduced by Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was federal budget director for Bush during 2001-03.

Some attendees said Bush had not done enough for the black community, but Henry Cooper, a maintenance supervisor for the Simon Property Group suggested that people were not looking hard enough. He said the president was speaking to more than just black people Thursday, but all of America.

"I think when the time is right, he will speak to any group," Cooper said.

Bush's decision to skip the NAACP convention this week in Milwaukee was a sore subject for protester Mustafa Ikhlas, a black Muslim from Indianapolis.

Ikhlas said Bush had done little to promote black causes and had deliberately snubbed the NAACP in favor of a friendlier crowd.

"He is dealing with a different class of black folks up there. They are educated," he said of the NAACP meeting. "These black people down here want to have a good time and forget."

When Bush spoke before a mostly white crowd of supporters at the Indiana State Fairgrounds about two years ago, he was treated to mostly whoops, hollers and wild applause.

Bush's visit was the eighth time Bush had been to Indiana since he took office in 2001.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)