Maryland NAACP officials are calling on their national leadership to admit a mistake and apologize for endorsing rival Charlotte, N.C.'s, bid for a National Football League franchise
But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke isn't looking for an apology. He only wants the NAACP to lend its support for Baltimore's football bid now that the civil rights organization has entered the NFL franchise fray.
Mr. Schmoke, interviewed at the Inner Harbor before last night's holiday fireworks, said he believes the football controversy will be an issue at the NAACP's annual convention next weekend. The event will be held in Indianapolis -- the home of Baltimore's old football team, the Colts.
George N. Buntin Jr., executive director of the NAACP's Baltimore branch, said he told a representative of the national organization yesterday that "local membership is incensed" and that the matter has been "handled poorly."
"I told him nothing short of an out-and-out admittance that they made a mistake and that they owe this city and this state and this chapter an apology will do," Mr. Buntin said. "Anybody in public life will make mistakes sometimes. That's forgivable," he said. "But the inability to admit a mistake and apologize for it is less forgivable."
But Mr. Schmoke, asked if he felt the NAACP should apologize for its statement supporting Charlotte's bid, said, "No, I think they ought to endorse Baltimore, too.
"Since they decided to get themselves involved in the process, they ought to look at the fact that the NFL is going to select two cities, so I think they ought to endorse Baltimore, too," the mayor said. The other cities vying for an NFL franchise are Memphis, St. Louis and Jacksonville, Fla.
"Baltimore has been extremely supportive of the NAACP over the years, and this is the home of its national headquarters."
Mr. Schmoke said it was too late for the NAACP to withdraw its support of Charlotte, after the group's board leaders refused to apologize on Saturday.
"The statement the NAACP issued [Saturday] was unsatisfactory and really raised questions in my mind about who's running the shop," Mr. Schmoke said. "This may be an issue that will come up at their convention in Indianapolis."
He said he was disturbed that the NAACP endorsed Charlotte after a group leading that city's effort signed a "fair-share"
agreement with the organization to provide economic opportunities to minorities in its holdings -- including the Denny's restaurant chain, which has been the target of several widely publicized racial discrimination lawsuits.
"The minority-participation plan for Camden Yards is actually better than the fair-share plan approved for Charlotte," Mr. Schmoke said.
The Rev. John L. Wright, president of the Maryland conference ** of NAACP branches, said yesterday he was equally disappointed with the national organization's actions and wants to hear an apology from the NAACP executive director, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
"I'm in concurrence with George," Mr. Wright said. "The executive director doesn't understand the sensitivity of this matter."
The controversy was touched off Thursday when representatives the Baltimore-based NAACP announced the agreement with Charlotte's prospective NFL team owner, Jerome J. Richardson.
The pact promotes opportunities for blacks within Mr. Richardson's Flagstar Cos. Inc. of Spartanburg, S.C., and promises minority participation in a prospective NFL team's management, stadium construction and as suppliers.
In a news conference announcing the deal, Dr. Chavis said the NAACP would "help out in any way possible" for Charlotte to get the NFL franchise. Mr. Buntin said Dr. Chavis then compounded the problem by releasing a five-paragraph statement Saturday that neither apologized to Baltimore nor backed away from the Charlotte endorsement. "It did more harm than good," he said.
State NAACP leaders initially had encouraged Dr. Chavis to meet with Mayor Schmoke this week, but Mr. Buntin said yesterday that such a meeting probably should not take place until the NAACP has a new position to offer.
The NAACP national office was closed yesterday, and a spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Buntin and other local NAACP organizers place some of the (( blame for the controversy on the fact that Dr. Chavis is new to his job and hasn't been able to assess the reaction in Baltimore. Dr. Chavis was appointed to the post in April and is a native of North Carolina.