NAACP President Quits, Cites Conflicts
Monday, March 5, 2007
Bruce S. Gordon, the former telecom executive who was named NAACP president in a surprise choice less than two years ago, has resigned after a long-running disagreement with the group's 64-member board over how to steward the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization.
Gordon's confirmation yesterday in Los Angeles that he quit the NAACP's leadership caught numerous members by surprise, including Lorraine Miller, president of the District's chapter, and the Rev. Morris L. Shearin, the chapter's vice president, who also is a member of the national board of directors.
Friction between the president and a micromanaging board is a fact of life at the NAACP, members said, but Shearin said "I never knew" things were this bad.
The Rev. Benjamin Hooks of Memphis, who served as NAACP president for more than 15 years, said in a telephone interview that he was "very surprised" by the resignation because "I thought things were moving along smoothly."
Hooks said his relationship with the NAACP board was also strained when he took over the organization in 1977, but within a short time that changed. "After I had been there a year or two, when they trusted me, I ran it lock, stock and barrel," he said. "But they have to believe in you. I had no trouble for a number of years, but I had trouble at first."
When Gordon, 61, was selected president in June 2005, succeeding former congressman Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Hooks said he offered some advice: "I cautioned Brother Gordon that he would have some problems. The board wants to do a number of things."
Dennis C. Hayes, who ran the Baltimore-based organization as interim president after Mfume resigned in December 2004, after nine years at the helm, will again assume that role as a search committee looks for a replacement. Gordon is expected to leave the job by month's end.
Gordon was en route to New York yesterday and could not be reached for comment. NAACP Chairman Julian Bond did not respond to messages.
The Associated Press first reported Gordon's resignation. "I believe that any organization that's going to be effective will only be effective if the board and the CEO are aligned, and I don't think we are aligned," Gordon told the news agency.
In choosing Gordon, the NAACP veered from its tradition of selecting ministers, politicians and civil rights figures. Gordon's strong management skills and fundraising ability as a former Verizon Communications Inc. executive factored into why he was selected to run the 500,000-member NAACP. The organization struggled financially in the mid-1990s before Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, took over as chairman and began to eliminate massive debt.
The group's $27 million operating budget has been criticized as paltry, and the size of its membership has been the same since the 1940s.
During his tenure, Gordon closed the rift between the 98-year-old NAACP and the White House. In July, President Bush addressed the organization's annual convention in Washington. With the speech, Bush avoided becoming the first president since Warren G. Harding not to address the most recognized black American rights group throughout his term.
The NAACP was among the organizations that strongly challenged the results of the Florida balloting in the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided in Bush's favor. In the run-up to his reelection, Bond referred to far-right members of the Republican Party as "the Taliban wing." Mfume routinely criticized the administration's policies.
In 2004, the Internal Revenue Service threatened to revoke the NAACP's nonpartisan, tax-exempt status because Bond "condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush" in a speech, according to documents provided by NAACP lawyers.
Gordon's push to move the NAACP's headquarters to Washington was embraced by numerous board members, including Bond, but was unpopular with executive committee members because it would increase costs, according to a member who is familiar with the talks.