In a show of contrition meant to quell a weeklong controversy, NAACP leaders told Baltimore yesterday that they were sorry and insisted that they never officially endorsed the rival bid of Charlotte, N.C., for a professional football franchise.
The two top leaders of the Baltimore-based civil rights group maintained that they never intended to "ignore Baltimore . . . nor to provide any one city with a competitive edge over any other" -- despite telling reporters in North Carolina a week ago that they were sending "a clear signal to the NFL that we want a franchise here in Charlotte."
The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., NAACP executive director, and Dr. William F. Gibson, board chairman, read a seven-paragraph statement after a short City Hall meeting yesterday morning with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a 7th District Democrat, and local NAACP officials.
Noting that their Charlotte remarks were taken as an endorsement, the leaders said:
"That was not our intention and we, therefore, apologize. The NAACP, however, reserves the right to endorse franchisees" that best meet the NAACP's goals for black economic development.
The civil rights leaders invited prospective owners of a Baltimore football franchise to make deals pledging black participation. There were no immediate takers.
The NAACP signed such a pact last week with Jerry Richardson, who is trying to win a National Football League franchise in Charlotte.
Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Mfume, apparently relieved to put the endorsement imbroglio behind them, accepted the NAACP apology.
"In all relationships you can have misunderstandings, and the key is the commitment to the long-term relationship [between the NAACP and Baltimore] and moving forward," Mr. Schmoke said. He said the NAACP leaders had acknowledged the "deep hurt and pain of the citizens throughout the state who have been in the past so strongly supportive of the NAACP."
Mr. Mfume, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and a City Council member when Baltimore lost its NFL franchise in 1984, called the NAACP's apology "absolutely crucial, fitting and appropriate."
Still rankled, however, was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who complained that he was not invited to the City Hall meeting. Mr. Schaefer helped bring NAACP headquarters to Baltimore while he was mayor in 1986, and he was a major force in garnering the political support to build a stadium should Baltimore win an NFL franchise.
"I don't know why I wasn't included in the meeting. It was only the Afro-American community," Mr. Schaefer told reporters in Annapolis.
"He [Dr. Chavis] could have called me yesterday, but he didn't. I don't like the way we were treated at all," the governor said.
Dr. Chavis said at City Hall that he would call Mr. Schaefer.
Yesterday's statement was hashed out at a three-hour Tuesday night meeting at NAACP headquarters in Northwest Baltimore between the national civil rights leaders and about 75 Maryland NAACP activists. A statement released Saturday by Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson had failed to satisfy local NAACP officials and politicians.
Rodney Orange, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, said he demanded that the statement include an apology, which he called a "sticking point."
Mr. Orange said the NAACP was slow to soothe Baltimore's hurt feelings because it took several days for Dr. Gibson, a Greenville, S.C., dentist, to be "convinced of the severity of the damage that was being done and how deep the pain was locally."
Dr. Gibson said yesterday that he regretted that the controversy "did drag on to this point in time."
Origin of controversy
The controversy began a week ago when the NAACP signed "fair-share agreements" pledging black participation with Flagstar Cos., Inc., the parent corporation of the Denny's restaurant chain, and with Richardson Sports, the prospective Charlotte NFL franchisee. Denny's faces several lawsuits alleging that it discriminated against blacks.
Although an NAACP endorsement of Charlotte's NFL bid was not part of the written agreement, Dr. Chavis and Dr. Gibson supported Jerry Richardson's attempt to bring pro football to the Carolinas. However, the NAACP leaders said yesterday that only the group's national board can make official endorsements.
Five cities -- Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn. and St. Louis -- are competing for two NFL expansion franchises to be awarded this fall.
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said any deals with the NAACP would be "between the NAACP and the ownership groups. If the NFL adopts as one of its standards that each prospective franchise owner should do what Jerry Richardson has done, then we would endorse it 100 percent and we would do it."
Mr. Belgrad said the Stadium Authority had compiled an enviable record, in building Oriole Park at Camden Yards, of setting goals for minority participation with the state's Legislative Black Caucus and meeting them. He said it would do the same for a football stadium.
The Glazer family, one of Baltimore's prospective ownership groups, would not say whether they would negotiate with the NAACP.