Bruce S. Gordon announced his resignation yesterday as president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, less than two years after taking the helm of the nation's oldest civil rights organization.
Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in a statement that the Baltimore-based organization was sad to see Gordon go. But some board members and a source affiliated with the NAACP said tensions between Gordon and board members over his vision and leadership style contributed to his departure.
"We wish Mr. Gordon well," Bond said in his e-mailed statement, adding that the NAACP will immediately begin a nationwide search for his successor, including candidates from the nonprofit, corporate and civil rights communities - looking for a new president who can ensure that "our mission of social justice advocacy strengthens and grows as we approach our Centennial anniversary in 2009."
Bond did not elaborate on the search effort. He said that the NAACP's general counsel, Dennis C. Hayes, will lead the organization in the interim.
Gordon, 61, who announced his decision to the Associated Press by telephone from Los Angeles, did not return calls for comment. He told the AP that the NAACP needs to be more focused on social service but that he and its board were at odds on that direction.
"I believe that any organization that's going to be effective will only be effective if the board and the CEO are aligned, and I don't think we are aligned," Gordon said. "This compromises the ability of the board to be as effective as it can be."
Gordon, a retired Verizon executive, succeeded Kweisi Mfume in summer 2005, shortly after winning unanimous approval by the organization's 64-member board. Gordon spent 35 years at Verizon Communications Inc., most recently as president of its Retail Markets Group.
Despite his corporate achievements, Gordon raised eyebrows in civil rights circles, representing a departure from the charismatic public figures chosen in past years to head the NAACP: social activists, ministers and political leaders.
Some people said at his hiring that Gordon's arrival was a sign of changing times for an organization hoping to expand membership and strengthen its finances. NAACP leadership said his credentials were just what the organization needed in the post-civil rights era.
During his short tenure, Gordon demanded aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina and voiced support for convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams, who was executed in California for the 1979 murders of four people. And where Bond and Mfume had been at odds about moving the organization's headquarters from Northwest Baltimore to Washington, Gordon and Bond agreed to go forward with the move.
In December, the Council of the District of Columbia approved $3.5 million in grants to ease the NAACP's move to an office and retail complex being constructed near the Anacostia River. Details of the relocation were to be completed during the NAACP's annual meeting last month in New York, but Gordon said that an agreement had not been reached.
During his time at the NAACP, Gordon arranged meetings with President Bush, thawing icy relations between NAACP leadership and the Bush White House.
On the surface, the meetings were seen as a step forward for the NAACP, but a source affiliated with the NAACP who spoke on condition of anonymity said Gordon ruffled feathers when he met privately with Bush - rather than with other board members in attendance.
Gordon also clashed with board members on his vision for the organization, the source said. Where board members wanted to retain social justice activities, Gordon wanted to implement social service efforts, including programs to help African-Americans build wealth, the source said.
At the NAACP's meeting in New York last month, Gordon told the board's executive committee that he wanted to resign, but members tried to persuade him to stay, said the source. A group of four board members met with Gordon two weeks ago asking if there were anything they could do to change his mind, the source said.
NAACP board members said they were shocked at the news of Gordon's departure.
Board member Willis Edwards of Los Angeles said he had recently heard rumors of Gordon's departure but dismissed them. Edwards said the NAACP's financial challenges might have prompted Gordon's resignation. The organization reported a budget shortfall at its meeting last month.
At the same meeting, Gordon announced a multimillion-dollar fundraising effort to cover the costs of the move to Washington and a plan to outsource a program at the national office, Edwards said.
"He made promises to the board that he would raise money and was going to do it by a certain time, and he had not raised that money," Edwards said.
Board members were concerned about any attempt to outsource operations that would result in eliminating employees. Edwards said he did not know how many people would be affected by the proposed change.
"People had great concerns about it and asked lots of questions," he said. "I thought it was something we could work through. I didn't think it was an issue that he would resign over."
Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP's California state conference, said she met with Gordon yesterday morning in Los Angeles for a debriefing on the NAACP's Image Awards, which were taped there Friday. She said Gordon did not tell her he was resigning.
"He does not seem like the kind of guy to pick up and leave," she said. "I'm sorry to see him go. I think if he had hung in there, we could have crossed those bridges, and we would have had the happy marriage we planned when the board unanimously approved him."
Edwards said Gordon's corporate management style might not have meshed with the board's civil rights focus. "We are not corporate America," he said.
Nevertheless, Edwards said he thinks the NAACP has weathered worse.
"He had some great attributes, but we have to go on and fight for justice," he said.