GARY, Ind. -- The shrewd political brain behind Jesse Jackson's long flirtation with the Democratic presidential nomination is in the person of Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary, Ind.
Months ago, Jackson asked Hatcher to handicap the odds on a run for the presidency; to set up the skeleton of a staff that could take on flesh at Jackson's word. Hatcher has done so.
There is no Jackson-for-president headquarters aside from two or three people in the Gary Sheraton Hotel, just across a parking lot from Hatcher's City Hall. The office has no title. Neither has Hatcher.
But if there is a Jackson candidacy, Hatcher is the likely director and the people toiling in the Gary hotel mezzanine represent the embryo of his campaign headquarters.
It is not the first time Hatcher has broken the rules and set a precedent.
He strode into Gary's City Hall in 1967, one of the two first black mayors of major American cities, a dauntless young reformer who had defeated a powerful machine whose leaders had a habit of winding up in jail.
Now, four terms later and confidently preparing for a fifth, Hatcher is still trim and dashing at 50, mellowed by marriage and fatherhood, tested and seasoned in the political cauldron of one of the country's toughest, meanest cities.
He has the broad outlines of a Jackson campaign in his head. He believes three things are needed: support, organization and money.
'I don't think there's any question about the support being out there,' he said in an interview. 'There's enough manifest support out there to warrant running ... probably more than any of the other candidates had before they made the decision to run, with the exception of (Walter) Mondale.
'The two questions where I am not so comfortable are organizational structure -- and I'm beginning to feel better about that - and this area of money. And it still looks questionable.'
Hatcher sees 'a minimum of $3 million that has to be raised for the primaries. To be matched, of course, by $3 million in federal funds.' 'We aren't counting on any fat cats at all,' he said. 'The campaign will be predicated on small contributions. We anticipate our average contribution will be about $25.'
But if money raising is still in what Hatcher calls 'the embryonic stage,' so is building an organization.
Two weeks ago, all there was of it was the anonymous office in Gary and an even more obscure one in Los Angeles. But 'exploratory committees' are at work in what Hatcher considers 26 key states and ready to convert to campaign committees.
Along with this must come some political finesse. Hatcher deprecated his credentials in this line, but indicated a full awareness of the rules of the game:
'I don't consider myself a consummate politician ... I'd like to think I would contribute a kind of sobering reality to the effort ... If there's someone there to say, 'Well, hold on, let me show you what this really looks like' ... because the Reverend Jackson and I do have this good relationship, I feel free to be as candid as I can.'
Not that friendship has anything to do with it, Hatcher said.
'I certainly would not be involved in this type of situation ... just because, hey, this is a good friend,' Hatcher said. 'I have a lot of very close friends I wouldn't support for president.
'If there were no such person as Jackson we would have to ... create him because he is close to being near perfect for where we are in this country.
'We hear a lot about 'Run, Jesse, run.' But in effect, that's almost secondary. What is primary is that it would encourage thousands from the so-called disadvantaged groups to run.
'All of them wouldn't win. But many of them would and that would form a political base in this country that never had existed before.
'Can he win? When I tell my 5-year-old daughter that she can become anything she wants to be because she is an American ... instead of that being the kind of traditional lie for black people in this country, a Jackson candidacy would move us closer to the day when that would be the truth,' Hatcher said. That, he said, would be a win.