Dennis C. Hayes is ice to Kweisi Mfume's fire. A decided introvert compared with the outgoing - and magnetic - NAACP president.
So, when reporters asked yesterday whether Hayes, the NAACP's general counsel since 1990 and its interim president beginning Jan. 1, was interested in replacing Mfume full time, Hayes looked mock-horrified and stood silent in the shadows of Mfume and NAACP Chairman Julian Bond.
"I happen to love my job as general counsel," he said later in a phone interview. "We do important work in the legal department."
One reason Hayes is a good choice as the NAACP's interim president, Bond explained, is that he has no ambition to be president and will therefore help direct "an objective search" for Mfume's replacement.
It won't be his first time filling in. A decade ago, Hayes helped guide the nation's oldest civil rights group through the fiery days of Benjamin F. Chavis, the former NAACP president who was ousted amid a sexual harassment scandal in 1994. After Earl Shinholster, acting executive director, relinquished the task, Hayes bridged the gap between Chavis and Mfume.
Although Hayes is starting his second interim presidency of the nation's oldest civil rights group, little is known about him. Few articles about the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have ever carried more than a perfunctory quote from the organization's lead counsel. Hayes is quiet and cautious, Bond said, "as you want your lawyer to be."
Hayes, 53, is a graduate of Indiana University School of Law, recruited to the NAACP in 1985 from his private law practice in Indianapolis. He is single - "a career civil rights lawyer," he said - and lives in Columbia. Golf is his hobby, but as his 23 handicap suggests, he doesn't have much free time.
He oversees a staff of eight lawyers at the NAACP, but that responsibility will grow to a staff of more than 100 when he assumes Mfume's duties next year. Whether or not his salary rises accordingly is up to the NAACP board.
"Let's put it this way, it didn't last time," Hayes said.
Before Bond left his office last night, three people had already e-mailed their resumes to him, seeking Mfume's job. When Chavis was fired, 2,000 people applied, Bond said.
"We were $4 million in debt then," Bond said. "Now we're in relatively good financial shape. Who knows how many [applicants] we'll get."
Bond expects to have a search committee of 11 ready to begin sifting through applications by the end of next week. The committee will comprise NAACP board members, members of the Special Contribution Fund - the NAACP's tax-exempt arm - and two or three people from outside the organization, Bond said.
For his part, board member Charles Whitehead of Covington, Ky., sounds as if he wishes Hayes would seek the top job.
"Dennis is very knowledgeable and has a real feel for the NAACP," said Whitehead, a former member of the board's executive committee. "Dennis is a lifelong NAACPer; he has that history and background."
By all accounts yesterday, Hayes' unassuming nature is a welcomed trait. "But even if Dennis were an extroverted lawyer, I think we still would have chosen him," Bond said, laughing.
Yesterday, Hayes wasn't about to seize Mfume's stage. When asked at the news conference about his interest in the NAACP presidency, Hayes leaned shyly forward just long enough to say that he had no designs on the job.
He then stepped back into the shadows.
Sun staff writer Kelly Brewington contributed to this article.
Dennis C. Hayes
Position: NAACP general counsel
Home state: Indiana
Education: Indiana University, Bloomington. Hayes received a bachelor of science degree in history in 1973 and his law degree from Indiana University School of Law in 1977.
Experience: Hayes specialized in civil rights litigation in private practice in Indianapolis.
General information: Hayes was recruited in 1985 to the NAACP's New York headquarters legal department as an associate and was selected to serve as NAACP chief legal officer in 1990. Hayes directs the NAACP legal department in its representation of the group, its board of directors, Chairman Julian Bond, President/CEO Kweisi Mfume, and its 500,000 members in more than 2,000 adult branches, college chapters and youth councils in the United States, Europe, Japan and Korea.