WHILE THE LEADERSHIP AT LAST WEEK'S UNITY '99 conference was relishing the national attention generated by George W. Bush's "gloried drive-by," as one attendee called it, at least two potential attendees we saw were turned away from the convention for lack of funds. Unable to come up with the $350 registration fee, or even the $150 fee they would have had to pay for a single day of conferencing, the men resorted to networking the lobby outside the convention hall.

Indeed, when last week's Unity '99 convention of 6,000 minority journalists drew to a close, its good intentions were doggedly underscored by exclusion, conflict, and controversy, eroding the notion of unity it tried to promote.

For starters, there was discontent over hosting the convention in a state that has an anti-affirmative law on its books. Meanwhile, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association (NLGJA) was left smarting over their second unsuccessful bid to become the fifth organization in the Unity minority umbrella. Although the convention gave a passing nod to the NLGJA in its seminar segments (along with women's concerns and the plight of the disabled), Unity vowed to retain its "ethnics only" stance.

These issues were obscured by the politicking from the four presidential aspirants who appeared at the convention. George W. Bush's surprise appearance at the convention's career exposition site created near pandemonium. Governor Bush had repeatedly declined invitations to be a featured speaker, even though he appeared for a tour of the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County just blocks away from the convention center. Still counting on Bush's no-show, Republican contender Arizona Senator John McCain scrambled to fill his party's void during a poorly attended speech given at the perimeter of Freeway Park. Former New Jersey senator Bill Bradley's next-to-last-minute appearance was much more successful. By using a friendly Q&A approach, Bradley deftly exploited the open disgust the dissed Unity leadership displayed toward Bush.

Vice President Al Gore enjoyed the most exposure during his appearance at the Friday plenary seminar called "Race, Technology, and the Future." As expected, Gore's speech was a thinly veiled appeal for support for his presidential bid. But by his speech's end the specter of disunity reared its head again. When he fielded questions from the leaders of the Unity's four ethnic contingents, the leaders abandoned both the plenary topic and the guise of unity, opting to ask questions directly related to their own ethnic interests.

Ultimately, the main attraction of Unity '99 turned out to be the formidable schmooze-athon of its career exposition. Corporate giants like Time Warner, Inc. and Turner Broadcasting shut out the concerns of smaller community presses and the virtually nonexistent presence of the alternative press by wining and dining hopefuls with the lure of better-paying jobs. The periphery of Unity '99 remained littered throughout by those who could not afford the $350 fee to gain full access to the convention's plums.