Rasta Republican
Meet Los Angeles's Ted Hayes. He's black, dreadlocked--and belongs to the GOP.

Thursday, April 28, 2005 12:01 a.m. EDT

LOS ANGELES--Condoleezza Rice and Ward Connerly once epitomized black Republicans in California. But their ilk now also includes Ted Hayes, a social activist and inner-city coach whose billowing robes and dreadlocks don't exactly conjure up an image of the GOP.


More blacks than ever support vouchers and faith-based initiatives, and side with President Bush on gay marriage. Mr. Hayes recently made the transition himself, ending a long journey for this former leftist who founded Dome Village, an outcropping of pod-like homeless shelters along the freeway in downtown Los Angeles.


There are other prominent black Republicans in California, of course, such as syndicated radio host Larry Elder and community relations expert Joe Hicks. But even among these unusual thinkers, Mr. Hayes stands out.


He's an intense critic of L.A.'s powerful "black old guard"--Democratic politicians, charity bosses and inner-city preachers who, for a generation, have responded to poverty and illiteracy by demanding government programs and blaming white racism.


Not surprisingly, plenty of people wish pesky black Republicans like Mr. Hayes would just slink away. He has skewered L.A.'s entrenched black leaders as "Negro officials," and he has the street cred to get away with it.


As L.A. endured another crisis between black leaders and cops recently, he refused to denounce police for shooting dead a 13-year-old, Devin Brown, after a car chase. Instead, Mr. Hayes's press release faulted black church leaders who, despite their great power, rarely point to the lack of parental responsibility.


A totemic figure in L.A., Mr. Hayes has long emphasized problem-solving and individual responsibility. If you want to stop kids from shooting people, Mr. Hayes has told appalled black preachers and activists, stop blaming cops and "white folks" for urban tragedy and start blaming the lackadaisical inner-city family culture you support.


Mr. Hayes spent last fall tooling around the fortified neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, knocking on security screens and urging stunned residents to vote Bush.


He explained that the Democratic Party was the Klan's party in the 20th century, and the party of the slave trade before that. A lot of people he met didn't know their pre-1960s history.


He's ever unflappable. In early December, he appeared on Fox News to vociferously defend the right of Condi Rice to be Republican. His segment was introduced by a bemused Brit Hume, who hardly knew what to make of the Rasta Republican.


To illustrate how easily civility can rub off on urban kids if adults take a stand, Mr. Hayes in the 1990s founded a cricket team in rundown Compton, comprised of Latino teenagers and homeless men. The team, called "Homies and Popz," toured Ireland and England, playing at Windsor Castle, where Mr. Hayes chatted with the Earl of Wessex. Mr. Hayes's son, Theo, a co-coach, told an interviewer that none of the cricket-playing kids has become a gang casualty.


The Los Angeles Opera commissioned a 40-minute opera on the team by Michael Abels, and the Homies won two victory cups in the L.A. Social Cricket Alliance, a league dominated by Brits, Indians and other googly-bowling expats.


Mr. Hayes can ignite controversy, as when he persuaded L.A. officials to sign a declaration two years ago calling on Muslims to denounce global terrorism more vehemently. City leaders rewrote the declaration, making Mr. Hayes's original wording tougher.


When Muslim leaders expressed outrage, city officials quickly apologized. Mr. Hayes still smarts over public criticism of him by Muslim leaders arising from the incident, which he says could be cited by radical Islamists as reason to harm him physically.


Even that sort of dread doesn't seem as tough as being a black Republican some days. He was outraged when a liberal white radio personality called Condi Rice an "Aunt Jemima" for embracing Republicanism, and even angrier when top black Democrats stood silent.


He founded ABE--American Black Elephants--a group that so far has 10 members. At a recent L.A. County Republican Party meeting, Mr. Hayes erupted into "God Bless America" after watching slides from a soldier who'd just returned from Iraq. Less emotive Republicans, though startled, joined right in.


Mr. Hayes's Republican bent has strained relations within his family. His daughter, Joanna, who won gold in the Athens Olympics in the 100-meter hurdles, explained on PBS last year that after much political confusion, she's learned to be deeply proud of her dad.


Yet in spite of the gnashing of teeth he provokes, Mr. Hayes earns grudging respect. In the '90s, with nonprofits citing a lack of "affordable housing" as a key cause of homelessness, Mr. Hayes--living among the domes--suggested that many black homeless men were modern-day tramps who viewed the middle class with disdain.


But he was constructive, not merely critical, and proposed a National Homeless Plan to enlist corporations to help resistant homeless men support themselves in special communities--winning private contracts like those that now go to incarcerated prisoners.


A principled man (like Mr. Connerly, the University of California regent who persuaded voters to end affirmative action in college admissions), Mr. Hayes has the courage of his convictions. Recently, he met with L.A. City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa to sound out his thoughts on the Hayes-Muslim dustup.


Mr. Villaraigosa, for his part, is seeking to become the first Latino mayor of L.A. since Abraham Lincoln's time, and has been peeling black votes away from incumbent James Hahn. He needs not to alienate the dreadlocked and outspoken Republican.


Mr. Hayes's victories are small--enjoying face time with a busy politician, teaching street kids the finer points of cricket, and helping homeless men pull themselves together. Each is a part of the Hayes project. And he's got patience, especially when it comes to broadening the Republican tent. Or, as Ted Hayes might call it, the Republican dome.


Ms. Stewart, a Los Angeles-based writer and syndicated columnist, is a political analyst on KCAL-9 TV Los Angeles.