Right On, Right Now!

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Bob's back! Not that Bob Woodson, Sr., president-for-life of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, ever left D.C. But with a Democrat in the White House for eight years, Woodson - a conservative-in-alliances-if-not-always-in-thought, and basher of traditional and traditionally liberal African-American civil rights leaders - was persona non grata at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Now the one-time official at the National Urban League turned fellow at the decidedly right-of-center American Enterprise Institute is poised to be a major shaper of Bush II policies toward poor communities.

Woodson has long been an ally of Republicans in general, and the new president in particular. It was Woodson who championed opposition to efforts in Texas to crimp the faith-based style of Teen Challenge and other drug and alcohol treatment programs hostile to state licensing and credentialing requirements. The winner of a 1990 MacArthur Foundation "genius award," Woodson, along with Bishop Harold Ray, CEO of the National Center for Faith-Based Initiative in West Palm Beach, Fla., and others organized a pre-Inaugural "Who Speaks for Blacks" conference in D.C. featuring Berkeley professor John McWhorter, author of "Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America." At the event in the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Woodson launched the Independent Black Majority organization "to provide an alternative voice" to the likes of the Urban League and NAACP. The new group is "incubating," says Woodson at the NCNE.

Two weeks later, Woodson stood nearby as the new president announced the White House Office on Faith-Based and Community Initiative and similar "new" offices at five federal agencies, with an expected total staff of 100. One agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has had just such an office since 1996.

Woodson is no stranger to the curved corridors of HUD. A close advisor to former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, Woodson has crusaded for two decades for resident control or privatization of public housing. On the HUD transition for Team Bush was Bob Woodson, Jr., 38, then an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), member of the Senate Subcommittee for VA/HUD Appropriations. Woodson, Jr. is now the newly appointed deputy staff director at HUD.

But don't expect Woodson, Sr., to give up his day job at the 20-year-old NCNE, where he earned $164,799 in 1999. Among the enterprising Woodson's conservative funders of that year's more than $2 million budget were the Lynda & Harry Bradley Foundation, Milwaukee ($449,999), the Scaife Family Foundation, Pittsburgh ($225,000), and the William H. Donner Foundation, New York ($66,667). The generally progressive Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore was long a prime target of Woodson's ire for its alleged hostility towards indigenous youth and community workers, and Casey's attendant biases in favor of funding established agencies run by professionally credentialed suburban commuters. But Woodson is a critic no more. In 1999, Casey gave the NCNE $370,000 for its Youth Violence Prevention initiative in D.C., Hartford and Indianapolis. In D.C.,  Casey funded a NCNE-led partnership with the Alliance for Concerned Men which yielded a sustained plunge in violent behavior within the deeply troubled Benning Terrace Public Housing Development.

Another former target of Woodson's high-pitched opinions has been the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP). But unlike the Justice Department's "de-fund the left" policies during the Reagan era, Clinton administration officials eschewed a "de-fund the right" approach, leaving the NCNE with $460,665 in government funding in 1999. Last year, NCNE received $2,500,000 from OJJDP for its Violence Free Zone Demonstration Program staffed by John Dortch, the former director of D.C.'s Time Dollar Youth Court, and Terence Mathis. Woodson says "100 percent will go to grass-roots groups" this year with no NCNE overhead. Woodson wants "our performance to serve as the standard for all groups who purport to represent the poor." Meeting that goal will require a major upgrade in the NCNE's pass-through grantmaking. In its 1998 IRS returns, NCNE reported pay-outs from OJJDP's $200,000 grant of $67,795 to 17 groups, including $2,184 to Class! Publications, part of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In tax year 1999, NCNE's $200,000 OJJDP grant paid out $64,341 for 10 "TA vouchers," including over $7,500 to the Foundation for Tobacco, listed at a post office box in Encinitas, Calif.

Woodson is "very pleased" with the Bush administration in part because churches will be "an alternative provider to the poverty industry."

At a mid-February press conference with fellow conservative Terrence Scanlon (president of the Capital Research Center and a Reagan-era chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission), Woodson warned faith groups of the dangers of accepting direct federal grants.  Enforcement of various professional qualification standards and other regulations can, said Woodson, result in an "assault by the state on these faith-based organizations."

Now at the peak of one of Washington's more fascinating and mercurial careers, Woodson says, "God doesn't require success, just faithfulness."