With Jackson out, race to lead NAACP heats up Board to select from 3 remaining candidates James Bock

April 08, 1993|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

The struggle over who will head the NAACP sharpene yesterday as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson withdrew from the race to succeed the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks.

Board sources said that Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., 45, a civil rights veteran who once spent four years in North Carolina prisons, was the front-runner.

But Jewell Jackson McCabe, founder of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, claimed front-runner status for herself on the basis of press reports that showed the board's search committee ranked her second only to Mr. Jackson. One committee member discounted those rankings, published in the Washington Post, as only a preliminary finding.

The third remaining candidate is Earl T. Shinhoster, 42, an insider who heads the NAACP's Southeast region. He is regarded as a marginal contender who could prosper if the board deadlocks.

Mr. Jackson's withdrawal came as the NAACP's 64-member board prepared to meet in Atlanta tomorrow to pick only the fourth executive director to manage the nation's largest civil rights group since 1930. Mr. Hooks, who presided over the move of the NAACP's headquarters to Baltimore in 1986, is retiring after 16 years in the job.

Mr. Jackson announced his withdrawal from the race in a five-page letter to the board chairman, Dr. William F. Gibson, that was distributed to the news media.

He declined to make any further comment.

In the letter, Mr. Jackson wrote that he had made clear to Dr. Gibson early in the search process that he "would not participate in a fratricidal political battle."

But that is exactly what the NAACP search appears to have become, as both Mr. Jackson's reputation and the NAACP board's credibility have been maligned.

Mr. Jackson said he was concerned that the board was planning changes that would "greatly strengthen the board chairman and significantly weaken the executive director."

"A strong director -- with meaningful powers and duties -- is essential to a strong NAACP," Mr. Jackson wrote.

Board sources confirmed that changes in the executive director's role are under study, but not in response to Mr. Jackson's candidacy. They said Mr. Jackson faced strong opposition and would have lost had he stayed in the race.

"Jackson is attempting to save face, and he may back out," one board member, who refused to be identified, said yesterday before Mr. Jackson pulled out. "It would be better for him to do that. Losing hurts more than winning feels good."

Dr. Chavis told the Associated Press that he had "complete confidence in the integrity of the board. But if one of the leading candidates views their candidacy as in trouble, and they start to criticize the organization, it verges on the threshold of ambitious dishonesty."

Jackson supporters said the withdrawal of the two-time candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination showed that the NAACP board was not up to revitalizing the civil rights organization.

"People quite frankly expected the boldness that would come with Jackson being the head of the organization, and I think they will be disappointed," said Ronald Walters, chairman of Howard University's political science department. "It will deepen the cynicism that the organization is still relevant. The reputation of the board won't be very good after this."

Roger Wilkins, a civil rights activist, said the "board is flexing its muscles and attempting to make sure that its own power position is not eroded."

The Jackson withdrawal heightened the competition among the remaining candidates.

"I know Reverend Chavis and Mr. Shinhoster are preparing to do battle, and so am I," Ms. McCabe said yesterday from her New York office.

With Mr. Jackson out of the race, "I'm clearly No. 1," she said. "I'm on a roll, and I'm going to Atlanta."

Ms. McCabe, 47, admitted she has no built-in constituency on the board, but she is counting on a forceful presentation tomorrow to attract votes.

"I am clearly an outsider," she said. "Shinhoster grew up in the organization. Reverend Chavis is part of the black male religious inner-circle clique, and I'm not."

She said that the NAACP is "as well-known as Coca-Cola and as respected as the American flag" but that the association's 2,200 branches need to be managed more efficiently and its headquarters should become a think tank for black America's problems.

Mr. Shinhoster said he has been "open about my desire for support, but I haven't made it a crusade or tried to count heads."

He said the next executive director must rebuild the NAACP's branches, youth councils and college chapters to attract new, younger members.

"Obviously my basic experience and knowledge of association policies, programs and people is my strong selling point," he said.

Dr. Chavis, executive director of the United Church of Christ's Commission on Racial Justice, has mounted the most active public relations campaign, including sending board members a brief biographical videotape made especially for them.

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