Recommendation on new NAACP leader could come today Committee seeking an executive director has worked since July


The beleaguered NAACP's search for an executive director could end as early as today, when its board of directors meets in Baltimore.

The nation's oldest and largest civil rights group, which is struggling to shed a deficit of more than $3 million, has lacked an executive director since August 1994, when the board fired the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., who was alleged to have mishandled funds.

A seven-member committee began seeking Dr. Chavis' successor in July, with help from a Chicago executive-search firm.

The committee has operated in secrecy.

Board members, including a candidate for the job, said yesterday that they didn't know whether the committee would recommend someone today.

"Maybe they're being closed-mouthed about it, or maybe they aren't prepared to submit a name," said board member Joseph E. Madison, an applicant. "No one has said a word. No one whispered, no name surfaced. Nothing."

Lenny Springs, a co-chairman of the committee, would only say last night that the panel would "give a report."

Mr. Springs is a Charlotte, N.C., bank executive and chairman of the NAACP Special Contribution Fund.

The other co-chairman, A. Leon Higginbotham, a retired federal appeals judge, could not be reached.

If the board fails to name an executive director today, it would have to wait until it next meets in February or call a special board meeting at extra expense.

Mr. Springs had said in a recent interview that he expected a recommendation by today.

"I think it's very important to get it done," the co-chairman said.

He said that potential donors were awaiting the choice of the board of directors and that "our programs have basically been held in abeyance" until an executive director is named.

Chairwoman Myrlie Evers-Williams, elected in February after former Chairman William F. Gibson was accused of extravagant spending, has been the public face of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since then.

Among the candidates for the executive director's position are Wade Henderson, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, and acting Executive Director Earl T. Shinhoster, who said it was "critical" that the job be filled.

"I'm not sure how long the association can continue in this mode," said Mr. Shinhoster, who has been compelled by the financial crisis to lay off dozens of NAACP employees.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, often mentioned as a possible candidate, said he had neither applied for the job nor been approached by the NAACP.

"If I'm in the ring, I don't know it," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Despite the NAACP's internal turmoil, Mr. Springs said the group had many applicants for its top job, which paid Dr. Chavis $200,000 a year.

Dr. Chavis, who held the job for 16 months, succeeded the Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks (1977-1993) and Roy Wilkins (1955-1977).

"The interest clearly demonstrates that the NAACP is the premier civil rights organization in the country," Mr. Springs said.

However, the NAACP was conspicuous in its absence from Monday's Million Man March, which drew hundreds of thousands of black men to Washington.

The NAACP did not endorse the event, which was organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and Dr. Chavis.

Many members, including Mr. Shinhoster, attended on their own.

The acting director said NAACP branches have received many inquiries about membership since the event.

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