Three candidates have emerged as finalists for the national NAACP's top position, the Free Press has learned.
But an undercurrent of discontent over the choices of a special NAACP search committee may force the nation's oldest civil rights organization to find an alternative from within its own upper ranks.
According to sources who wish to remain anonymous, the three finalists for president and chief executive officer are:
• Benjamin Todd Jealous, 35, a former executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and now president of the Rosenberg Foundation in California;
• The Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, 47, a Dallas megachurch leader;
• Alvin Brown, 37, a former White House senior advisor to President Bill Clinton and urban policy director for Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Contacted at the NAACP's Baltimore headquarters this week, Richard McIntire, a spokesperson for the national organization, would neither confirm nor deny the names. However, he did say the first opportunity for the NAACP's 64-member board to take any action would be at its May 16 and 17 meeting in Baltimore.
Leaks have sprung from what was to be a highly guarded process because of the antipathy with which the three finalists are viewed by many insiders.
The three are said to be closer to the mold of Bruce S. Gordon, the former Verizon Communications executive who was head of the national organization for just 19 months before resigning unexpectedly in early March 2007. Gordon, whose leadership style and corporate background put him out of sync with the board, reportedly clashed almost immediately with the hands-on directors.
Because of his tension-filled tenure, several board members want the NAACP's next leader to be a person rooted in the civil rights struggle, perhaps even an insider. The name most frequently mentioned is that of the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers, chief of field operations for the national NAACP. The South Carolina native has worked at every level within the organization, from branch president to state and regional director.
Since Gordon's departure, the top leadership position has been filled on an interim basis by Dennis Courtland Hayes, the organization's former general counsel. Even Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia NAACP, expressed reservations about the three finalists.
"I'm really disappointed by the names that have come back as finalists," he said. "They might be well respected, but … we need someone who has worked in the movement, is known in the movement."
He called the selection of a new leader "the most important decision" facing NAACP, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year.
"This is going to make or break the organization."
Fueling the unfavorable feelings are indications that only the top candidate — and not all three finalists — will be presented to the board for consideration. That person is reported to be Jealous, a Rhodes Scholar who served as managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, Mississippi's oldest Black newspaper. In that capacity, he was a strong civil rights advocate under hostile conditions. He later became executive directorof the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an organization of more than 200 Black-owned newspapers that includes the Free Press. Jealous left to work with Amnesty International, a highly respected human rights organization, where he led efforts to pass federal laws against prison rape and to build public consensus against racial profiling after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He has been president of the California-based Rosenberg Foundation for three years. The private foundation financially backs advocacy efforts to improve the lives of California's working families and recent immigrants.
McIntire said several board members made it plain at a February meeting that they wanted the search committee to consider "elevating from within." He did not comment on the possibility of Rev. Rivers' candidacy. He said 200 applicants expressed interest in the job. The field was narrowed to 75, then to 25. Despite Khalfani's doubts about the finalists, he said he's optimistic that the search may be re-opened in the face of a backlash from the organization's rank and file.