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News Maryland

NAACP convention not necessarily coming to Baltimore after all

The local branch of the NAACP spoke prematurely last week when it announced that the organization's 2016 national convention would be held in Baltimore, a spokeswoman from the national headquarters said Thursday.

A panel is still in the process of evaluating four cities, including Baltimore, as potential sites for the event, said Michelle Nealy of the association's national office, and will not make its recommendation to a committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's national board of directors until October.

Nealy said she could not explain what led to the erroneous announcement.

The local branch put out a news release July 23 stating that Baltimore had been chosen. "Needless to say, this is a big deal for Baltimore," branch president Tessa Hill-Aston said in the statement. "The entire city will roll out the red carpet to make the delegates feel at home and welcome."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake also issued a statement, saying Baltimore was honored to have been awarded the convention and calling the presumed decision a sign of the city's growing profile as a national tourist destination.

The Baltimore branch, located on West 26th Street, operates separately from the national headquarters, on Mount Hope Drive. Nealy said she did not know whether national officials had contacted the local branch to discuss the error.

Baltimore remains one of four cities under consideration. The others are Cincinnati, St. Louis and Austin, Texas.

Representatives from each city made a presentation to the selection panel at the national convention in Las Vegas last week. Dana Vickers Shelley, another spokeswoman for the national organization, said national officials were in Las Vegas when the local branch issued the erroneous report and were unaware of the mistake until after they returned to Baltimore.

Hill-Aston did not respond to requests for comment.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said he believes the mix-up happened in the midst of a swirl of excitement after NAACP leaders responded positively to Baltimore's presentation, which was led by Visit Baltimore, a nonprofit that promotes trade and tourism in the city.

"Everybody that was there saw the presentation and proposal, and Baltimore did incredibly well and a lot of the folks involved in the decision made very favorable comments about the likelihood that Baltimore would get it, and our local branch took that to mean that it was settled," Harris said.

The problem, he said, was that the NAACP hadn't issued a final decision. "We later learned there were additional steps that need to take place," Harris said.

"We remain excited about the possibility of hosting, and confident about our prospects, but an official announcement won't come for several months," he said.

Hill-Aston had previously said Baltimore planners hoped to schedule the convention for the Fourth of July weekend in 2016.

Some City Council members expressed disappointment that the matter isn't settled, as they had thought.

"It's a huge shock to learn that it wasn't a done deal," said Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents parts of West Baltimore. "It would be completely unfortunate if it doesn't come here. I was looking forward to it and looking forward to participating. For the city of Baltimore, we are ripe for this type of convention, with our cultural institutions and our deep and rich history."

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said the mayor and the council stand ready to do what they can to help persuade the NAACP to come to the city: "Just let us know."

"We were just so excited at the prospect that maybe accidentally we jumped the gun, but we very much want to be the place where the national NAACP convention is held, and if we jumped the gun it was just because we were so anxious and excited and welcoming," Clarke said. "We hope they will in the long run decide to choose us."

The selection process will include site visits and consultations to all four cities, according to a statement from the national office.

"We are delighted at the interest expressed by the communities representing these four great American cities. Each year, we look for venues where our delegates and members can gather together, learn and enjoy a welcoming environment. We are certain our 2016 host city will be no exception," the statement said.



Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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