Mfume woos Miami, is mum on mayor's race

NAACP chief sticks to business at conference

May 14, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- As rumors swirl that their leader might not preside for long, NAACP board members trickled in to their quarterly meeting yesterday to do some nuts-and-bolts civil rights business.

Some might have felt reassured about his plans. Asked at a reception last night about his interest in the Baltimore mayor's race, NAACP President and Chief Executive Officer Kweisi Mfume said: "That is not the center of my focus here. The reason I'm here is [because] I have a job I'm still doing that requires me to be focused. I left those discussions in Baltimore."

In his first public address of the session Wednesday night, Mfume spoke at a north Miami church about equality, justice and his plans for moving the NAACP forward. He decried recent incidents of police brutality and rollbacks of affirmative action.

"Our job is to speak the truth and not cower in front of lies," Mfume told a crowd of more than 500 at New Birth Baptist Church. "We ought not be apologetic about being truthful about that which is wrong."

He outlined a plan of action for the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- including work on voting, education, health, economic development and youth issues.

It was Mfume doing what he has done most often in his three years as NAACP boss: visiting branches -- he had never spoken to the Miami-Dade County branch -- wooing new members and raising money.

This meeting, the first national board meeting to be held in Miami, will include a 90th birthday celebration, keynote addresses by a local college president and a member of Congress and 14 committee meetings. Board members and staff from Baltimore will discuss such issues as branch activities, finances and youth involvement -- and will fine-tune plans for the annual convention in July in New York City.

"There are wall-to-wall meetings, and Mfume and [Chairman of the Board Julian] Bond will try to make an appearance at each one," said John C. White, a spokesman for the NAACP.

Many believe Mfume might use this gathering to consult with NAACP officials about the possibility of his leaving the organization and publicly announce his intentions.

For months, many have urged Mfume to enter the mayoral race. He initially insisted he would not run, but he has said recently he is considering a campaign.

Mfume has refused to set a date for making a decision about the race, saying he would not allow others to dictate his agenda.

"After I leave here, I will deal with that issue," he said yesterday. "No one will have to wonder when I've made my decision."

Mfume is scheduled to leave Miami for Baltimore tomorrow.

If his popularity among NAACP members in the Miami area is any indication, Mfume would have no trouble winning a political race.

At New Birth Baptist, audience members -- who had braved fierce thunderstorms to attend -- offered him several standing ovations.

His only hint that he might have set his sights on life after the NAACP was in discussing the importance of cultivating young members. "If, when it's all said and done, I don't do anything else at the NAACP except to turn this organization over to young people, that will be enough," he said. "If we don't, we will be a great civil rights organization that lived and died in the 20th century. I'm not going to have that."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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