A rough year shapes NAACP's search for an executive director


MINNEAPOLIS -- Help Wanted: "A strong leader, with the presence and stature for national prominence. A skilled and strategic manager -- someone who inspires excellence in others. An agent for change. A self-starter with a willingness to travel extensively and work tirelessly in support of the NAACP."

That is part of the "ideal profile" of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's next executive director. A search firm retained by the civil rights group is circulating a brochure listing qualifications for the job.

The NAACP, whose past glories have been dimmed by present financial troubles, ended its 86th annual convention here this week looking toward future prospects.

The NAACP's immediate challenge is to raise what membership director Isazetta Spikes calls "M & M: membership and money." With a $3.8 million deficit, every payroll is in jeopardy unless "M & M" flows to the group's Baltimore headquarters.

But now the organization is also seeking a different M & M: a manager and motivator capable of rebuilding the NAACP.

"As our delegates return home, our emphasis is one of putting the past behind us and moving forward -- lean, mean and active," Chairwoman Myrlie B. Evers-Williams said.

Mrs. Evers-Williams, who defeated veteran Chairman William F. Gibson in a February board election, said she is determined that the board will select an executive director at its next meeting in October.

"For the well-being of the NAACP, we need that issue settled," she said.

A seven-member search committee, led by Leon A. Higginbotham, a retired federal appeals judge, and Lenny Springs, a North Carolina bank executive, has not peeked at any resumes or mentioned names, Mr. Springs said.

Speculation about possible candidates was not intense at the convention, but a few names were bandied about, including:

* Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP's small Washington bureau and the group's main lobbyist.

* Maynard Jackson, former may or of Atlanta and a longtime civil rights advocate.

* Jewell Jackson McCabe, a New York businesswoman who was a finalist for the job in 1993 and wants it again.

* Acting Executive Director Earl T. Shinhoster, an NAACP insider who was also a finalist in 1993 and has been in charge of making painful staff cuts.

* Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the West Baltimore Democrat who formerly chaired the Congressional Black Caucus and addressed Youth Night at the convention.

Mr. Mfume didn't rule out interest in the job. But he said that no one in the NAACP had spoken to him about the post and that he hadn't "bothered to deal with it. . . . I'll cross that bridge if and when I come to it."

Perhaps the most prestigious post in the American civil rights movement has been vacant since Aug. 20, when the board fired the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

While Dr. Chavis served only 16 months, his four| African-American predecessors -- James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Roy Wilkins and the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks -- were in the job for a total of 73 years.

Dr. Chavis was dismissed after he secretly committed up to $332,400 in NAACP funds to settle a threatened sexual-harassment suit.

An audit released this week found that Dr. Chavis also charged more than $32,000 in personal expenses to the NAACP as the organization sank deep into debt.

The report showed nearly $112,000 in questionable expenses by Dr. Gibson.

Not surprisingly, after a year of bad news about financial mismanagement, unpaid bills and staff layoffs, the search committee's first two qualifications for an executive director are: "unquestioned honesty and integrity" and "experience in managing a complex organization."

Other qualifications include communication skills, fund-raising ability, a "track record of demonstrated success," and "absolute commitment to creating a just and interracial democracy in America."

"The next person has to be a manager and a fund-raiser," said Dr. Hooks, a former Memphis judge, pastor and the first black member of the Federal Communications Commission, who headed the NAACP from 1977 to 1993. "The problem is you've got to have something to manage."

Leroy W. Warren Jr., a national board member from Silver Spring, said he wants no "long-winded foolishness" in the next NAACP leader.

"I want a mainstream person, neither left nor right, somebody out of the corporate or foundation community who's a manager and respected civil rights person," he said.

Ben Andrews, a Connecticut board member, said: "We're not just looking for somebody who we necessarily already know. We're not just looking for a person who can speak well and get everybody excited."

"They need to be able to run an approximately $20 million-a-year nonprofit corporation. If they can't raise money and run the organization, speeches are irrelevant," he said.

Julian Bond, a search committee member, said: "This is a CEO's job. Charisma is not the main qualification. I don't want some guy who has 50 pens in his pocket and is tied to a computer all the time, but this is a manager's job."

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