City social services official claims helm of Baltimore NAACP

Tessa Hill-Aston would be first woman leader of city organization in 30 years

  • Tessa Hill-Aston is the newly elected president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
Tessa Hill-Aston is the newly elected president of the local… (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
November 17, 2010|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People appears to have elected a city social services officials as its president this week, making Tessa Hill-Aston the first woman to serve in the top local office in almost 30 years.

A final tally of votes was not available Wednesday, but early results showed Hill-Aston leading her opponent, former longtime branch president G.I. Johnson, by large margins. Her slate of preferred candidates also looked to have made a clean sweep of positions on the branch's governing body.

Hill-Aston, a housing administrator at Baltimore Healthcare Access, a city agency that helps provide health services for residents, has served in several NAACP leadership positions, most recently as a vice president under the previous president, Marvin L. "Doc" Cheatham.

Hill-Aston said she intends to focus on helping seniors, the homeless and people with housing troubles during her two-year term. The branch presidency is a volunteer position.

"I have worked in the housing capacity with my job, so I'm very much in tune with housing issues," Hill-Aston said.

She said she also intends to form partnerships with groups like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and provide more youth programs.

Hill-Aston would be the first woman elected to the branch presidency since Enolia McMillan, who held the position in the early 1980s and went on to become the first woman president of the national NAACP. Hill-Aston credited her victory partly to the support of high-profile female politicians like state Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat.

Johnson did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.

Although only about 200 local members voted in this year's election — which state NAACP officials said was about average turnout for the branch — candidates and volunteers were actively engaging in last-minute campaigning, handing out materials to voters outside the local branch's headquarters on 26th Street.

Cheatham, a prominent local activist who has expressed interest in running for public office, stepped down this summer and promptly endorsed Hill-Aston for the top slot.

Ellis Staten, the interim president after Cheatham stepped down, will again serve as the organization's vice president under Hill-Aston. He said her high victory margins indicated a rejection of Johnson's time at the helm of the Baltimore NAACP.

"His past presidency showed that the membership of the NAACP did not want him to lead," Staten said.

Elbridge James, who lobbies for the NAACP on political issues in Maryland, said Hill-Aston did a particularly good job of bridging conflicts and disagreements within the local branch and reaching out to longtime members of the organization.

This year's apparent results stand in sharp contrast to the 2004 race, when Cheatham unseated Johnson in a highly contested election, the results of which took nearly a week to make final.

The Maryland NAACP's president, Gerald G. Stansbury, said Johnson has until five days after the election to challenge its results. Stansbury said he has not heard from the Johnson campaign since the election.

Cheatham will serve on the local branch's new executive committee. Hill-Aston, who also serves on two commissions within the mayor's office, will assume her position in December.

Members of several other local branches of the NAACP have held or will hold their elections soon, Stansbury said, including those in Worcester, Washington, and Prince George's counties.

The national NAACP decided in August to maintain its offices in Baltimore rather than move to Washington, D.C., or Montgomery County, options considered by the national board.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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