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Kweisi Mfume, former NAACP president, faces a scandal just as his campaign for the Democratic nomination for Maryland's open Senate seat gets launched. Mfume, who wants to replace Democrat Paul Sarbanes, has been accused of misusing his position at the civil-rights organization to assist women he reportedly either had inappropriate relationships or harassed in a sexual manner. According to the Washington Post, an internal NAACP report says that such allegations will be "difficult to defend" given the evidence presented:
Members of the NAACP executive committee first saw the report detailing the allegations against Mfume at an October meeting in Washington, about a month before Mfume announced his decision to step down. The document has been a closely guarded secret -- one board member said the copies that were distributed were numbered and collected after the meeting. Most members reached this week declined to discuss it.
The document was intended as an assessment of the allegations as the organization's leaders evaluated how to handle the claims of the mid-level employee, Michele Speaks.
Speaks hired an attorney and asked for $140,000, two years' salary, in exchange for agreeing not to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or pursuing a lawsuit, according to the report. Speaks could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, Kathleen Cahill, declined to comment.
The NAACP hired Marcia E. Goodman, a Chicago employment lawyer, to analyze Speaks's allegations. In the memo, Goodman concluded that some of Speaks's claims -- including an assertion that Mfume "touched her on the hip" -- largely amounted to a "he said-she said" dispute. But Goodman wrote that others were more problematic.
Speaks could mount a credible claim of workplace harassment because of "the impression [that was] created that a woman must provide sexual favors to Mr. Mfume or his associates in order to receive favorable treatment in the workplace," the lawyer wrote in the memo.
In an interview yesterday, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond would not say whether the organization's board ultimately decided to pay Speaks.
The NAACP has been through this before Mfume. Mfume's predecessor, Benjamin Chavis, cost the NAACP over $300,000 to settle sexual discrimination claims after he got booted out of his leadership post. The board appears to have learned a lesson from that embarassment: don't go public. Except for the member who leaked the report to the press, those board members contacted by the Post have all stonewalled on the reasons for Mfume's abrupt and surprising departure last year, when the rumor was that Mfume and Bond had a falling out over the tone and direction of the NAACP's politics.
That now looks like an excuse, a spin which allowed Mfume to leave his post by looking too moderate for Bond. Another memo given to the Post appears to confirm that these allegations against Mfume are part of a track record going back to at least 1998, when two of his female subordinates got into an argument in the offices over Mfume and his dating habits. One of the women got disciplined, and one of them got promoted shortly afterward -- and the Post's description of the memo strongly implies that Mfume's girlfriend is the one who got the promotion. The attorney who wrote the memo also alleged that Mfume tampered with witnesses to block the NAACP's internal inquiry into the incident.
None of this will look good in a Senate campaign that undoubtedly will be hard fought, first in the primaries and then in the general election. The Republicans want to pick up Sarbanes' seat badly, and have a good shot at it in moderate Maryland. They have an excellent candidate who has proven himself ready for the national stage in Michael Steele, the current Lieutenant Governor. Mfume looked like a strong selection, especially after the spin coming from Mfume's camp about how his moderate intentions for outreach to the Bush administration caused him to be forced out of the NAACP leadership post by the hard-liner Bond. However, now that this story has fallen apart in favor of a more sordid explanation, Mfume can expect a hard primary challenge from Democrats who cannot afford to give away another Senate seat.
Expect Mfume to back out of the race, probably by this summer, if this report gets substantiation. If true, we'll see a string of women who will eventually go public with the information, and apparently the NAACP found it credible enough to warrant an expensive legal analaysis just before Mfume's departure.Sphere It View blog reactions
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In this era of the New Puritanism, the Washington Post seems to be straining for le mot juste: Mfume Accused of Favoritism At NAACP Ex-President Denies Rewarding Women Allegations detailed in a confidential NAACP report claim that Kweisi Mfume gave [Read More]
Tracked on April 28, 2005 9:42 AM
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