|Retired Verizon Exec Gordon to Lead NAACP
By ERIN TEXEIRA
AP National Writer
Originally published June 26, 2005, 7:22 AM EDT
ATLANTA -- Turning to a businessman to lead one of the nation's
seminal civil rights groups, the NAACP's board of directors
announced Saturday that Bruce S. Gordon, a retired Verizon
executive, will be its next president.
"Civil rights leaders throughout this country did what they did and
died, so my generation has full responsibility to walk in the doors
those brave people opened," Gordon said after the board voted. "It's
fabulous, exciting, humbling."
Gordon was selected by a large majority of the board to succeed
Kweisi Mfume, former U.S. representative and a candidate for Senate
in Maryland who resigned abruptly in December. Several months later,
a report surfaced that his personal relationships with NAACP
staffers had contributed to widespread mismanagement at national
headquarters in Baltimore. One staff member threatened to sue.
Described as a top-notch leader and consensus-builder, Gordon, 59,
began his career in 1968 as a management trainee at Bell of
Pennsylvania. For 35 years, amid massive upheaval in the
telecommunications industry, he helped the company navigate the
string of mergers that led it to become Verizon Communications Inc.
When he retired in December 2003, he was chief of Verizon's biggest
division -- retail markets.
Gordon's corporate background "means that he is accustomed to
working within a system in which merit and achievement count the
most," Julian Bond, chairman of the group's board of directors, said
in an interview. "That was attractive to us. Not to say that the
NAACP didn't have that. But with every step we've taken ... we
wanted to move up. And we think he's going to bring us a
quantitative move up."
Gordon said his first priorities will be to improve the
organization's finances -- its expenses have exceeded its income for
the last two years, tax documents show -- by working to build an
endowment, increasing membership and pushing for more efficiency in
His civil rights goals include working toward greater economic
equality, he said.
"People of color need to change and balance the trade deficit that
exists between people of color and the rest of society," Gordon
He also said he was looking forward to building a stronger
relationship with the Bush administration.
"I believe there has to be some common ground that can be
established between the White House and the NAACP that serves the
mutual interests of both of those parties," he said. "So I expect
going forward to find a way to forge that relationship."
Relations between the NAACP and Bush administration have been
strained. Bond has condemned the administration's policies on
education, the economy and the war in Iraq and urged high black
voter turnout to defeat Bush for re-election last year. And Mfume
once described Bush's black supporters as "ventriloquists' dummies."
A National Association for the Advancement of Colored People search
committee invited Gordon to apply for the position in February. More
than 250 candidates were considered, Bond said.
It became clear last week that Gordon was the only presidential
candidate under consideration, a choice that marked a striking
change for the NAACP. Most presidents have been political or
religious leaders, or prominent figures from the civil rights
"He's not a minister or a politician, but this man's been doing it
all along," said Eric Cevis, a vice president in Verizon's retail
division who has known Gordon since 1986. "He has a social
accountability that he's been preaching for years."
Cevis said Gordon pioneered diversity efforts at Verizon for blacks
and other minorities, consistently pushing the company to improve
its hiring and promotion practices.
Gordon was born in Camden, N.J., and raised with four siblings by
parents who were both educators and civil right activists.
He serves on boards of Southern Co. and Tyco International Ltd. and
is a trustee of Gettysburg College and the Alvin Ailey Dance
Foundation. He was named one of Fortune magazine's 50 most powerful
black executives in 2002 and executive of the year by Black
Enterprise magazine in 1998.
"I think he's a godsend," said Leroy Warren, a board member from
Silver Spring, Md., minutes after the board voted. "We need to get
back to real civil rights and economic development. ... He has the
intelligence to move forward."
After contract negotiations, Gordon is expected to be confirmed as
president at the association's convention in July.