NEW YORK — Bill Bradley '65 and Vice President Al Gore squared off in the historical arena of the Apollo Theater in Harlem late last night, each promising to work to end racial profiling if elected president.
The debate, which was televised nationally and lasted 90 minutes, included discussions of urban crime, affirmative action and each candidate's voting record on minority issues.
One of the more heated exchanges between Gore and Bradley was prompted by a question from Rev. Al Sharpton asking the Democratic rivals how they planned to approach the issue of police brutality.
Former Senator Bradley said he believes much of the problem with racial profiling relates to police officers' perceptions of race. "We have to stop looking at a wallet in a white man's hand as a wallet and a wallet in a black man's hand as a gun."
Bradley said if elected president he would issue an executive order ending the practice of racial profiling.
He then attacked Gore's record on the issue. "Why has the Clinton-Gore administration done nothing in the past eight years to stop racial profiling in the United States?" he asked.
Gore responded sharply. "You know racial profiling practically began in New Jersey, Senator," he said.
The debate was characterized by a number of similarly intense exchanges, especially on the issue of affirmative action.
"In 1995, Senator Bradley was the only Democratic senator on finance committee who voted against affirmative action," Gore claimed.
In response, Bradley attempted to hand the vice president papers that he said documented five instances when Gore had voted against ending tax-exempt status for several colleges that were allegedly practicing racial discrimination.
Recent polls give Gore a significant lead among minority voters, though some political experts said they believe that popularity may be inherited from President Clinton.
"It's interesting to note that this debate was one of the rare times when Gore even mentioned Clinton," University politics professor Fred Greenstein said in an interview after the debate. "Clinton is a president with an unprecedented amount of support with African Americans."
Greenstein noted that Gore and Bradley appear to share similar views on many minority issues, making Gore's connection to Clinton a decisive factor in his popularity with minority groups. "Gore just got there first by virtue of his link to Clinton," Greenstein said. "With Bradley, his campaign never really caught fire."The debate marked the first match-up between Bradley and Gore since the the vice president's victories in Iowa and New Hampshire. Since then, Bradley has begun to slip behind Gore in some polls, and has appeared to be struggling to stage a comeback.
Bradley aides have promised an increasingly aggressive campaign in the final two weeks before "Super Tuesday," when more than 12 states will hold Democratic primaries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.