Hundreds apply for NAACP top post

A search firm hired by the NAACP has interviewed more than 200 applicants vying for the top job at the nation's oldest civil rights organization, while NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and others have come up with their wish list of additional candidates. For now, the process is shrouded in secrecy.

As the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convenes in New York this weekend, board members will discuss the search process.

But names being considered as successors to Kweisi Mfume, who resigned in December after nearly nine years as president, won't be mentioned, said search committee member Coleman Peterson.

"It's a confidential process," said Peterson, who once recruited senior managers for Wal-Mart before starting a consulting business, Hollis Enterprises LLC.

It's a crucial time for the Baltimore-based organization. The NAACP has refused to comply with an Internal Revenue Service audit that could cost the group its tax-exempt status. The leadership's relationship with the Bush administration is still frigid.

And some skeptics continue to question the group's relevance in the post-civil rights era. Bond said that beyond the hundreds who have applied, the group's nine-member search committee has developed "a lengthy list" of candidates.

Since last month, the search group - comprised of NAACP board members and organization outsiders - has met twice in Washington.

Meanwhile, everyone from urban radio disc jockeys to legendary civil rights leaders have speculated who will land the high-profile job, with names ranging from Baltimore Democratic U.S. Rep. Elijiah E. Cummings to hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.

The basic attributes are not unlike what might be sought in a corporate executive, said search committee member Alice Huffman, who is also president of the NAACP's California state conference. But there's one distinction, she said.

'Seal the deal'

"There is one ingredient that will seal the deal: It's a person who is interested in justice and equal rights and can justify that with a background of fighting for equality in the country," she said.

"And they need not be worried about their own personal popularity - the feeling that we need to get along with this party or that one," she said. "We have been around for nearly 100 years because we have been looking out for the community by being courageous and speaking the truth."

While Bond wouldn't say who was on his short list, he said a handful of people impressed him.

"We'd love to make the announcement at our convention this summer, where we will have the attention of the world," he said. "But if we can do it sooner, we will. We could have someone within six weeks."

The NAACP search committee is charged with whittling down the candidates, while the full 64-member board, particularly the 17-member decision-making executive board within it, will make the final decision.

The NAACP annual meeting is held in New York, where it was founded in 1909.

It consists of two days of committee meetings, held yesterday and today, as well as a meeting tomorrow of members and the public where Bond will discuss the state of the organization.

This year, the NAACP is in the midst of an IRS audit that Bond has alleged is politically motivated.

The audit questioned whether Bond had improperly interfered in a political campaign during a speech at last summer's convention when he sharply criticized President Bush. Last month, Bond said he would not comply with the IRS probe, refusing to turn over requested documents. The issue will likely be decided in federal court.

"It's definitely a matter that is troublesome, of course, but we think we are in the right," he said. And while a four-year standoff with Bush ended when Mfume was invited to the Oval Office in December, Bush has yet to have a face-to-face meeting with current NAACP leaders.

'Out of touch'

"They [NAACP] are in the throws of a movement that is conservative," said Ron Walters, political science professor and director of the University of Maryland's African American Leadership Institute. "They are pilloried as a group that is out of touch with the mainstream, and they are shut off from avenues of power. So if that is the case, the question is how to articulate their agenda."

But if the NAACP's stand on the audit is an indication, the group may move in a more aggressive direction with new leadership, he said.

Many have insisted that despite the current uncertainty, the group has proved it's more than relevant in today's post-civil rights era.

"I was once, in the '60s, one of those who questioned the NAACP relevance - I was in the Black Power movement then," Huffman said. "But when you look over time at the commitment this organization has made to justice in America, it stands apart from all others."

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