Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NAACP Picks Lawmaker as New Chief Executive Kweisi Mfume Vows to Reclaim Group's `Rightful Place'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NAACP Picks Lawmaker as New Chief Executive Kweisi Mfume Vows to Reclaim Group's `Rightful Place'

Article excerpt

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Saturday chose Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md., as its chief executive.

The 64-member NAACP board of directors unanimously chose the child of the Baltimore ghetto to fill the NAACP's top staff job, which has been empty for the more than two years since Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. was dismissed for alleged financial mismanagement and sexual harassment.

Mfume, who said he would resign his congressional seat in February, promised to restore the beleaguered organization to "financial, political and spiritual health."

"There will be change, and it will be swift and measured," Mfume said. "We must, without equivocation or timidity, reclaim our rightful place as the voice of African Americans and others who believe in the power and the premise that all people are in fact, created equal," Mfume said of the NAACP.

The selection of Mfume is the culmination of a struggle to reform the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. The reform element has succeeded in the past two years in ousting Chavis and William F. Gibson, who was replaced as chairman of the board in February by Myrlie Evers-Williams.

Mfume, who once voiced an ambition to become the first black speaker of the House, is giving up a safe congressional seat to take over an organization saddled with a $3.2 million debt and with fewer than 50 people on its national staff, fewer than half of what it had when Chavis took office.

In recent months, as events such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Million Man March and the debate over affirmative action have pushed race relations to the front of the national stage, the NAACP has been too crippled by internal quarrels and financial difficulties to respond or react.

Not everyone is optimistic about the NAACP's future. "It's an organization which is now moribund, discredited and financially insolvent," said Michael Meyers, a former NAACP assistant national director who now heads the New York Civil Rights Coalition. …

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