Kweisi Mfume, a former Baltimore City councilman and U.S. congressman who has led the NAACP for the past nine years, is expected to announce his resignation from the civil rights organization today.
A source with knowledge of the announcement said last night that Mfume is leaving voluntarily to explore opportunities including television, business or politics.Mfume, 56, has said he would like time off to spend with his six sons, the youngest of whom is 14. He also reportedly is looking forward to a break from the punishing schedule of leading the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group.
Mfume will soon conclude his ninth year as NAACP president. He took over the organization amid financial problems and turmoil under the leadership of Benjamin Chavis.
After keeping a schedule that includes 65 trips a year on NAACP business, the source said, Mfume will likely take a vacation after his departure.
Mfume reportedly will serve as a consultant with the NAACP until the end of the year. The organization is expected to begin a nationwide search and have a new president by its next national convention in July 2005. According to NAACP rules, officers in the group cannot seek or hold public office.
Political allies said Mfume is eyeing a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Paul S. Sarbanes, whose current term ends in 2006. Sarbanes is 71 and has not said publicly what his intentions are.
The last time Mfume considered a run for elective office was in 1999, when he was urged to pursue the job of mayor of Baltimore. Although Mfume was widely viewed as the presumptive favorite, he declined to run, choosing instead to stay on as NAACP president.
Raymond V. Haysbert, a close friend of Mfume and former owner of Parks Sausage Co., said he was disappointed to hear of Mfume's decision.
"I discussed his future with him some time ago," he said. "I recognized then that the wear and tear was getting to him. I don't know about his timing.
"I don't think any one person can stand it but for so long. He's on the road so much. His versatility and broad background will be sorely missed."
"I just believe he's served the nation well with the NAACP. Whatever Kweisi's goals and visions are, I and others will support him," said Glenard S. Middleton, a close friend of Mfume who is president of the Baltimore chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The Baltimore native began his political career as a dashiki-clad political activist on the Baltimore City Council, first elected in 1979 on a campaign to "beat the bosses" and advocating for the poor and powerless.
After two terms on the council, he decided in 1986 to make a run for the seat of Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, a retiring civil rights leader who served 16 years in the House.
Defeating a black Republican, St. George I.B. Crosse III, in a bitter contest for the 7th District seat, he embarked on a bridge-building effort, forging a relationship with Mayor William Donald Schaefer and reaching out to constituencies across a wide swath taking in such diverse areas as Catonsville, West Baltimore and Hampden.
He followed in Mitchell's path in becoming a member of the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee, and he matured into a skilled legislative craftsman. He was instrumental in saving programs that aided minority businesses. And he embraced issues outside the traditional black agenda, from high-technology development to business tax breaks.
Within two years, he became a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus, which elected him as one of two vice chairmen and, in December 1992, as its chairman - a position that, with the election of a Democrat as president, gave him a rising profile in Washington.
Sun staff writers Ivan Penn and Sheridan Lyons contributed to this article.