Chavis damaged NAACP and doesn't deserve a dime

August 31, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

When he was fired as executive director of the NAACP, Ben Chavis was faced with a dilemma:

Should he become a martyr or should he go after the big bucks?

After much soul-searching, it seems he has decided to go for the green. Chavis may be accused of sexual harassment, but nobody ever accused him of being dumb.

So now he is suing the NAACP while he negotiates a "separation and severance agreement" with that organization.

"All I want is fair treatment," Chavis said.

Which probably means cash. But how much cash will be enough?

As executive director of an organization more than $3 million in debt, Chavis got a $200,000 per year salary, a pension of up to $75,000 per year, cost-of-living and merit pay increases, free health and life insurance, a housing allowance, travel and entertainment expenses and a Lincoln Town Car.

Martyrdom doesn't pay nearly that well. (And I hear the health plan is lousy.)

Yet I have a feeling that Chavis really hankers after both: the big bucks and the martyrdom.

Because after he was ousted from his job, he said that "there's been a crucifixion" and that he had gone through "a lynching."

And you can't get more martyred than that.

Chavis was fired because of the payoffs he made to Mary Stansel, whom he briefly employed and who accuses him of sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.

Chavis denies her accusations, but he agreed to pay her up to $332,400 out of the NAACP treasury to keep her mouth shut. Chavis then kept this a secret from the NAACP board.

Which, we now know, doomed him. But it was predictable even back then. At the point that Chavis entered into the agreement to pay Stansel the dough, he entered a no-win situation.

Take a look at what happened when Stansel's accusations became public: Chavis held a press conference to denounce her as a liar and a cheat.

And Chavis' lawyer stood up and implied that Stansel made these kind of accusations all the time for profit.

But if that were true, why did Chavis pay her in the first place?

Which is why Chavis' situation was no-win: The worse he made Stansel look, the worse he made himself look for paying her the hush money.

"Martyrs," Albert Camus once wrote, "must choose between being forgotten, mocked, or made use of. As for being understood -- never!"

But I think we now understand Ben Chavis quite well. He wants the big bucks.

And his lawyer (who might discover it is easier to hand out money than get people to pay you money) says Chavis was "wrongly and unlawfully" fired and could be "unemployable in his area of expertise."

Which is why he needs a lot of dough. How much? Well, Chavis might want at least as good a deal as the one he gave Stansel:

Stansel worked for the NAACP for six weeks and Chavis promised her $332,400, which works out to $55,400 a week.

Chavis worked at the NAACP for about 64 weeks, which means he would get $3,545,600 if he got the same deal she got.

Actually, he could argue that he should get a lot more because his job was so much more important and higher-paying than hers, but I have a feeling Chavis might accept $3.5 million. (Especially if the NAACP threw in the Lincoln Town Car.)

If I were the NAACP, however, I think I would pay Chavis somewhat less.

Like nothing at all.

In fact, I would make Chavis pay Mary Stansel out of his own pocket and not the NAACP's pocket.

Why?

Because Chavis is not the victim.

The NAACP is the victim. And Chavis made it so.

Chavis has humiliated the NAACP. He has made it difficult for the NAACP to raise money. (Why should anybody now give money to the NAACP knowing that it might end up in Ben Chavis' pocket?) He has damaged the NAACP and its cause.

And now he wants the NAACP to pay him?

True, there are suckers born every minute. And Mary Stansel found one.

But the NAACP should not agree to be next in line.

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