In a move that departs from its leadership choices of recent decades, the NAACP will choose Bruce S. Gordon, a former senior executive at Verizon Communications Inc., as its next president and chief executive officer, according to sources inside and outside the organization.
Gordon, 59, is set to be approved by the NAACP's 64-member board of directors at a meeting in Atlanta on June 25, the sources said. He would succeed former U.S. representative Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), who stepped down in December, and would become the first non-minister or non-politician to lead the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization since Jewish businessman Kivie Kaplan took the helm in 1966.
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond was traveling yesterday and did not return telephone calls seeking comment. John White, spokesman for the NAACP, said he could neither confirm nor deny Gordon's selection "because of a confidentiality agreement" with the candidate.
But three sources with knowledge of the selection said Gordon is the choice. The organization hinted at its choice in a June 10 news release in which it described the final candidate as "a former corporate executive." Gordon headed Verizon's retail markets division before retiring in 2003.
In a brief interview, Gordon said yesterday: "I am a candidate. I am very interested in the opportunity. I think it's an excellent fit in terms of my background, my skills and my experience. But until the board has spoken, I am simply a candidate."
The American Urban Radio Networks first reported the choice of Gordon on Thursday.
He would bring strong management skills and fundraising ability to the 500,000-member NAACP, which struggled financially in the mid-1990s before Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, took over as chairman and eliminated the organization's debt with Mfume's help.
Black Enterprise magazine named Gordon its "Executive of the Year" in 1998, and Fortune magazine ranked him sixth among its "50 Most Powerful Black Executives" in 2002.
He would succeed Mfume, who resigned from the NAACP to run for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), who is retiring. An internal NAACP memo alleges that Mfume gave preferential treatment in promotions and raises to women he dated, which Mfume denies.
Born in Camden, N.J., Gordon was raised by parents who were schoolteachers. He played wide receiver on his high school football team and studied at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania before accepting a job as an office manager at Bell of Pennsylvania. Eventually, he became a senior executive at the telecommunications giant.
Critics have called the NAACP's $27 million annual budget paltry and observed that its half-million membership is no larger than it was in the 1940s, even as the nation's black population has increased substantially.
Although Gordon received numerous awards for his commitment to diversity and for mentoring young black executives, he is not considered a major civil rights voice, civil rights leaders said.
Unlike former presidents Benjamin Hooks and Benjamin Chavis, Gordon is not a minister. Unlike Mfume, he has never held political office. One source said the organization is attracted to Gordon because of managerial skills and fundraising talent.
His anticipated appointment may pave the way for Bond to become the voice of the NAACP, a role he seemed to covet during Mfume's tenure, some said. On occasion, Bond would release his own public statements after Mfume met with President Bush or other officials and offered remarks to reporters.
Bond, once a sharp-tongued leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s, is a former state legislator who ran unsuccessfully for Congress.
Bond has said the NAACP must serve as a counterweight to a Bush administration that, in his view, is hostile to African Americans. In last year's presidential campaign, he said Bush's strongest supporters come from "the Taliban wing" of the GOP.
Bush refused to attend the NAACP's annual summer conference throughout his first term, something no sitting president had done since the 1930s.