The NAACP, restored to stability, will choose its new leader tomorrow, and veteran civil rights leader Julian Bond appears to be the favored candidate.
The organization's board will meet in New York to choose a new chairman to replace Myrlie Evers-Williams, who announced last week that she would not seek a fourth term. At last count, six candidates -- including Joe Madison, a Montgomery County radio host -- were in the race.
But many are pointing to Bond, a longtime activist and Washington history professor, to take the helm and work with President Kweisi Mfume in bringing energy and renewed stature to the Baltimore-based group.
"Julian Bond is the great hope for the NAACP -- maybe the last great hope for them," said Michael Meyers of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. "He is one of the last remaining pioneers from the civil rights movement. There's no contest."
Sources close to the organization say that Evers-Williams, who is credited with helping save the organization from financial ruin, urged a reluctant Bond into the contest.
"I got a number of calls from board members urging me to run," said Bond, board chairman of the NAACP's publication Crisis Magazine, who joined the race on Tuesday. "I am reconsidering my reluctance."
The other candidates for the unpaid position are Lenny F. Springs, a North Carolina banker; Leon Russell, a human rights official in Florida; Marc Stepp, a Detroit labor union executive; and Charles Whitehead, a utilities executive from Kentucky.
Ben Andrews of Connecticut withdrew from the race in Bond's favor Tuesday. The number of candidates is expected to dwindle today.
"I think there's a lot of wheeling and dealing going on," Springs said. "I don't think anyone will know what's going to happen until it all comes down."
By all accounts, the men seeking to fill Evers-Williams' shoes -- the all-male pool has chagrined some women in the organization -- share similar ideas about where they'd like to take the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People: back to its once-central position in the African American community and in the nation.
"I just want to make sure we're paying attention to the civil rights agenda, our basic reason for existence," Bond said. "I'm often asked, 'What new may the NAACP be doing?' We should simply be doing the old things better."
Next chairman's agenda
He and other candidates want to improve educational opportunities, cultivate young leaders, promote economic empowerment and reinvigorate the legal team that was once credited with winning a string of landmark court decisions. The nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization, they say, must re-position itself as a leader on such issues as affirmative action.
"If you look at the other folks who are running, everyone is in it for the same reason: civil rights," Springs said. "Where we stand on issues, that's going to be similar. It will come down to who has the leadership, the vision."
Some are saying Bond is the only one who has it.
The longtime radio and television commentator and founding member of several advocacy organizations is a former Georgia legislator who now teaches civil rights history at American University in Washington and the University of Virginia.
"Bond to some degree fits their model of what they would like," said David Bositis, a political analyst with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington-based black think tank. "Somebody like Julian Bond would be a very safe quantity, a known quantity," he said.
The main factor against Bond may be his late entry into the race.
Said Madison, "Whether it's too late or not I'm not sure. There's a great deal of commitment for myself and other people [from board members]. When you're number six to enter, it's a question of whether or not you can go into New York with enough votes."
An orderly contest
Whoever wins tomorrow, perhaps the most important change for the NAACP is the atmosphere of order surrounding the contest.
Last Saturday, most of the candidates met in Pasadena, Calif., for the NAACP's annual Image Awards and agreed to wage a polite contest and support the new chairman.
In contrast, in 1995, during the last contested election for the chairmanship, members of the opposing camps -- backing Evers-Williams and then-Chairman William F. Gibson -- were openly hostile. Amid catcalls and chanting, they created what some called an embarrassing spectacle.
At the time, the organization was in crisis. Under Gibson and Executive Director Benjamin F. Muhammad, formerly Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., the NAACP had run up a $4.8 million debt. Internal audits showed that the men spent beyond the organization's means and charged personal expenses to NAACP credit cards.
But under the leadership of Evers-Williams and Mfume, the money problems were erased. Through staff cutbacks and restructuring, the organization managed to produce a budget surplus and create a new image.
Last year, Evers-Williams urged the board to oust four members who had committed ethics violations unrelated to their work with the NAACP. The move came with personal pain for Evers-Williams. One of the four was a close associate, Hazel Dukes, who admitted she stole more than $13,000 from a leukemia-stricken associate.
"You do not fill Myrlie Evers-Williams' shoes," Madison said. "They have been bronzed on the mantle of history. You have to take the torch and light a new path."
Pub Date: 2/20/98