NAACP ponders suburb of D.C.

Civil rights group considering move to Prince George's

Maryland

August 01, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN AND KELLY BREWINGTON | ANDREW A. GREEN AND KELLY BREWINGTON,SUN REPORTERS

The NAACP will strongly consider moving its headquarters to a $2 billion office and hotel complex rising along the Potomac River in Prince George's County, President Bruce S. Gordon said yesterday after an intense lobbying effort by state officials to keep the civil rights group in Maryland.

Gordon said the organization remains determined to move closer to the center of political power in Washington. But after an hourlong, closed-door meeting with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson and others, Gordon said he was convinced that the huge National Harbor project - which includes stores, restaurants and an entertainment complex near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge - could suit the NAACP's needs.

"National Harbor wasn't even on my radar screen," Gordon said. "It presently is."

Gordon said sites in Washington "have not [been] taken off the table at all," but state and county officials hailed the meeting as major progress.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section yesterday mischaracterized a letter sent by then-Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to the Internal Revenue Service regarding the NAACP. Ehrlich asked the IRS to respond to a constituent complaint that the civil rights organization had become too political and asked that his office receive a copy of the response. He did not raise the allegation himself in the letter.
The Sun regrets the errors.

For Republicans Ehrlich and Steele, the effort to keep the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Maryland has taken on significance much greater than keeping an employer of 115 in the state. Instead, they said, having the nation's oldest civil rights institution in Maryland speaks volumes about the state's place in the history and future of African-Americans.

In a year when Maryland saw the opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African-American History and Culture and the renaming of Baltimore-Washington International Airport for civil rights pioneer Thurgood Marshall, it would be unconscionable to see the NAACP leave Maryland, they said.

The lobbying blitz also has a political dimension. Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, Ehrlich's Democratic rival for governor this fall, made a strong but as yet unsuccessful pitch to Gordon to keep the NAACP in Baltimore.

Being able to retain the organization when O'Malley could not could be a coup for the Republican incumbent who has made a strong outreach effort to the state's black voters but who drew criticism from some after recent disclosure of his past questioning of the organization's tax status.

The meeting comes several months after the NAACP revealed that Ehrlich was among a handful of Republican congressmen who had asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether the organization had become too political.

While NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond called the politicians' letters partisan attempts to silence the group, Ehrlich defended sending the 2001 letter to the IRS as an appropriate action to follow up on a constituent's complaint.

Ehrlich said Gordon came to the governor's mansion about three weeks ago to meet with him about the move. The governor said it seemed like no more than a courtesy call to let him know that the organization would be leaving the state for Washington.

But Ehrlich said he was unwilling to let the NAACP go without a fight and immediately thought of the National Harbor as the perfect place to steer Gordon.

Details of project

The project, developed by Milton V. Peterson, is to include hotels, offices and retail and in addition to a 1,500-room convention center hotel being built by Tennessee-based Gaylord Entertainment.

The complex is the centerpiece of development efforts in the suburban Washington county, and local leaders envision it as a model of economic empowerment. Members of the Prince George's County Council recently approved penalties for Gaylord if less than 15 percent of its contractors are minority businesses.

`To the next level'

"The civil rights movement is evolving in this country, and this gentleman is taking it to the next level," Ehrlich said, gesturing at Gordon.

"The next level is economic development ... and you couldn't have a better county in the world for that branding than Prince George's County, Md."

Steele, the state's first African-American statewide elected official and a candidate for U.S. Senate, said the economic dynamism of Prince George's County will make the National Harbor the new gateway to Maryland and the perfect place for the NAACP.

"It's just a whole package that makes a lot of sense," said Steele, a Largo resident and past chairman of the Prince George's GOP central committee.

The 97-year-old civil rights organization moved to Baltimore from New York in 1986, after receiving more than $1.1 million in state and federal grants toward the purchase of a $2.6 million, five-story brick building at Mount Hope Drive.

But in recent years, Bond, the NAACP chairman, has made no secret of his desire to move the organization's headquarters to the nation's capital. Bond, who lives in Washington, has said proximity to power and politics is essential for the civil rights group's advocacy.

At helm for a year

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