NAACP reiterates intention to relocate

But chief concedes options still on table after City Hall visit

June 16, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

The president of the NAACP said he intends to relocate the organization's headquarters from Northwest Baltimore to Washington despite efforts by City Hall yesterday to stop the departure - reinforcing concerns that a move is all but certain.

Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, emerged from an hour-long meeting with top city officials yesterday to reiterate the group's position, first announced last month.

"Our intention is to locate in Washington, D.C.," said Gordon, who set no timetable for making a final decision. "But I will also make sure that I leave no stone unturned."

Gordon's comments, his first made publicly, countered speculation that NAACP leadership has been at odds over the move to Washington. The idea was floated by Chairman Julian Bond during a radio interview in May that aired while Gordon was overseas on vacation.

The 97-year-old organization came to Baltimore in 1986 from New York and employs about 115 people. The original relocation here was controversial, and some within the NAACP, including Bond, have been pushing for a move to Washington for years.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday the city would make every effort to retain the NAACP, and while he acknowledged the group is "strongly leaning" toward Washington, he said he was holding out hope that a deal could be struck.

"We're going to be taking our best shot," O'Malley said. "This is not only a retention that's the right thing to do for economic development purposes, but it's a retention that we take great pride in pursuing."

Given the organization's reason for moving - that it could be more influential on national policy if located in the center of government - it is not entirely clear whether what Baltimore can offer would be enough.

Gordon arrived at City Hall without staff yesterday and met for about an hour with O'Malley, his chief of staff Clarence T. Bishop and M.J. "Jay" Brodie, president of the Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm.

Though neither side would discuss details of the negotiations, Gordon said new locations within Baltimore and branding efforts are on the table. He described the administration's efforts as aggressive and, despite his seemingly firm statements, left open the possibility of staying.

"We really weren't here to make decisions. We were here just to explore options," Gordon said minutes after he left the mayor's office. "We ultimately will make a decision that's in the best interest of the NAACP and our mission."

The NAACP hired a real estate agent weeks ago to market its site on Mount Hope Drive and to identify locations in Washington, sources in the NAACP told The Sun in May.

Bond said then that he had spoken with Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams this year about the possibility of a move.

Bond could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Experts have suggested the NAACP could have a greater influence in Washington, but O'Malley argued the organization has been able to perform its job well from Baltimore for two decades - invoking the name of one of Baltimore's best-known civil rights leaders.

"There's been no secret that for some time Mr. Bond has believed that the organization should be headquartered in Washington because the lobbying activity and advocacy happens around the Capitol," he said. "But that didn't stop Clarence Mitchell Jr. from being effective."

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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