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Minneapolis NAACP Branch Faces Hostile Takeover Bid
[This is a slightly altered version of an article which appeared in the March 10-16, 1999 issue of The Pulse of the Twin Cities, under the title Minneapolis NAACP branch in turmoil after election. Editing errors are corrected.]
Rick Campbell, a Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal in the Minneapolis Fire Department became president- elect of the Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP after a bitterly fought election campaign that ended on January 9, but the results of that election have been challenged.
Campbell out-polled the outgoing president, Leola Seals by a vote of 218 to 202. However, at the time of this writing Leola Seals is still the president of the Minneapolis NAACP. There is a formal challenge to the validity of the January 9 elections and Rick Campbell's status as president-elect is uncertain.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Seals campaigned for re-election defending the tactics of the 1960s - picket lines, protest marches and rallies - that the branch employed under her leadership. She said they are legitimate tactics for improving conditions for minorities and branded her challengers 'people who owe their allegiance to the downtown power structure.'"
In addition, Seals has displeased the city's ruling class by transforming the NAACP branch from a mutual aid society for social climbers to an organization that is fighting for human rights, such as the right to housing and an adequate education. Under her leadership, the Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP organized protests against the "Community School Plan." Under the plan, students in predominantly non-white, high-poverty neighborhoods are forced to attend schools with the least experienced teachers, and fewer and more-outdated textbooks than in schools for children from the district's more affluent neighborhoods.
Protests against the Community School Plan put the Minneapolis Branch of the NAACP at odds with the Mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sayles Belton, who ranks second to none as a booster of the Community School Plan. Belton, a Democrat, is the first African-American, and first women to serve as Mayor of Minneapolis. Democrats also hold 12 of 13 seats on the city council, including 11 self-described "liberal" Democrats, and 6 out of 7 seats on the school board. The City Council unanimously endorsed the Community School Plan and other policies which the Minneapolis NAACP branch has vocally opposed, such as CODEFOR, a "zero-tolerance" law enforcement strategy for poor and predominantly non-white neighborhoods.
The election for branch officers was originally scheduled for November 14, 1998, and former state legislator Richard Jefferson was the anti-Seals candidate for Minneapolis Branch President.
Jefferson attacked Seals for taking part in protests against the school board and city government in a Star-Tribune article, saying that "these are the tactics of the '60s, and I don't think they worked that well in the '60s, and I don't think they will work that well in the '90s." Jefferson, of course, has conveniently forgot that his entire carreer and election as state legislator was only possible because of the "tactics of the '60s" employed by the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
However, Jefferson was found to be ineligible to run for branch president because he wasn't a member in good standing 180 days prior to the nominating meeting on October 17, as required by the NAACP constitution, which Jefferson supporters and press accounts referred to as a "dues technicality."
Neither Campbell nor Jefferson had been active members of the branch before running for branch president. And, unlike candidates on the Seals slate, many of the candidates that ran on the Campbell slate have not been active members of the branch for some time, if ever.
Candidates for the executive committee on Seals slate were also running unopposed in the election that was scheduled for November 14, 1998. When nominations for the executive committee came up on the agenda at the branch membership meeting on October 17, former branch president Bill Davis demanded that nominations be opened for assistant secretary, which had not been proposed at the previous branch meeting where the agenda was set. The post of assistant secretary is not required by the NAACP constitution and the Minneapolis branch never ratified a set of by-laws.
For several minutes, Bill Davis loudly, frequently and persistantly challenged the ruling of the chair that his motion was out of order. The Jefferson group failed to nominate their candidates and didn't recognize this oversight because they couldn't hear anything but Bill Davis.
Jefferson and five of his supporters then filed a lawsuit to prevent the November 14 election from being held, alleging that the nominating meeting was conducted improperly and should be done over again. They also could have stopped the election with a formal challenge as prescribed by the NAACP constitution.
The anti-Seals group then reached an agreement with the NAACP national office to postpone the November 14 election and to do the nominating meeting over again in December in exchange for dropping their lawsuit without prejudice, meaning that they may re-file it at any time.
By persuading the branch secretary to run on their slate, the anti-Seals group gained control of the list of eligible voters. Many supporters of Leola Seals were then dropped from the list of eligible voters, did not get official notice of the elections, and those who were informed about the election by other means and went to the polling place had to cast a challenged ballot. Twenty-two ballots were challenged. Only 4 challenged ballots were eventually counted.
The validity of the election report is in question because there is a possibility that Campbell's 16 vote margin of victory over Leola Seals could greatly diminish or evaporate completely if the 18 uncounted ballots were to be counted. A authoritative election report must include a review of the grounds for challenging all of the uncounted ballots, and how names were deleted and others added to the list of eligible voters after Campbell's supporters gained control of the list.
Leaders of the anti-Seals group expected an intervention by the national office of the NAACP to work in their favor. The replacement of Ben Chavis by Kweisi Mfume as NAACP president a few year ago signaled a turn away from the militant style and more distant relationship with the Democratic Party that Ben Chavis personified. The less militant style and a closer relationship with the Democratic Party appealed to upper class blacks with ties to the Democratic party, and to a large part of the so-called black middle class.
The slate headed by Jefferson, and later by Campbell received the support of an influential organization of upper-class African American women (and men) called the Links. The Minneapolis- St. Paul Links chapter urged their members to purchase $10 memberships in the NAACP, and to support the Jefferson slate, an "NAACP leadership that is supportive of our own link Carol Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools and Sharon Sayles Belton, Mayor of Minneapolis" [from a Links newsletter dated October 3, 1998].
This election not only pitted Leola Seals against a conservative wing of the NAACP, and a rich and powerful segment of the black community, but also against the Democratic party. The slate of candidates headed by Campbell was endorsed by the Minneapolis City Council President, Jackie Cherryhomes. Many prominent leaders of the Democratic party came out to vote in the elections, including white politicians who wouldn't ordinarily be caught dead at an NAACP branch meeting.
A successful effort to defend the NAACP branch from a hostile take-over will require a mobilization of Minneapolis NAACP branch members, and must call attention to the orientation of the Campbell group toward the Democratic party, and the harm that will be done to most black people, and many non-blacks, by the deals they are doing with politicians downtown and at the State Capitol.