Technical difficulties

Lee Alcorn, the contentious president of the NAACP's Dallas chapter, may be disqualified from seeking re-election--on a technicality. The organization's national office is looking into allegations that Alcorn has failed to meet all the criteria necessary to seek office. These allegations have been raised in a hotly contested election for the post, which is scheduled for late November.

Alcorn faces two opponents, Dwaine Caraway, an advertising agency owner and husband of City Councilwoman Barbara Mallory Caraway, and Jordan Blair, an assistant publisher at Elite News, an African-American community weekly.

But in a move to knock Alcorn out of that race, a faction from the Dallas chapter--most likely Caraway supporters--has asked Mark Clack, the national field officer, to determine whether Alcorn has fulfilled the organization's residency and membership requirements.

If the national brass ousts Alcorn, it will not be the first time that the local NAACP president has caught flak from his superiors.

In his six-year tenure as head of the Dallas chapter, wiry 61-year-old Alcorn has distinguished himself as shamelessly controversial--a quality that his supporters contend should be expected of a civil rights leader. Alcorn, a surprisingly soft-spoken man in private, became a staple on the nightly news when he led protests at the Dallas Independent School District headquarters, opposing alleged racial inequities, and became one of Mayor Ron Kirk's most vitriolic critics. Kirk, the first African-American to win the office of Dallas mayor, held Alcorn in the same low esteem. Last April, after Alcorn interrupted a city council session, the mayor told members that Alcorn's "only objective in Dallas is to practice the politics of deceit and disruption and distortion and division..."

Alcorn's outbursts may have brought him media exposure, but they also prompted NAACP's national office to take action against him. In July 1997, it suspended Alcorn for 45 days as a punitive measure for his failing to acquire its consent before initiating DISD protests--as well as the demonstrations he helped organize at Kirk's house.

If the NAACP disqualifies Alcorn, it will be hard for his supporters to believe that the decision was not based on his past conduct, rather than the hypertechnical grounds now being considered: residency and membership. NAACP rules stipulate that candidates must live or work in the city of the chapter where they are seeking office. Alcorn lives in Grand Prairie. Although he retired six years ago from his job as radiology manager at a Dallas veterans hospital, he claims he works full-time in Dallas in his capacity as president of the Dallas branch. The post, however, is an unpaid position.

A candidate must, according to NAACP rules, be a member in good standing (having paid the annual minimum $10 fee) for at least 180 days prior to nomination. Alcorn's opponents have told the national office, Clack says, that the president of the Dallas chapter failed to pay his dues.

Alcorn flatly denies the allegation, seeing it as trivial and political. "That is just a rumor mill to have people guess about what is going on," he says. "Why would I be president and not be a member?" He also dismisses the possibility that he may be disqualified. "That is only an effort by my opponent to gain the organization by default."

The biggest beneficiary of an Alcorn disqualification would be Dwaine Caraway. A former on-air radio personality at K104-FM the owner of The Profile Group, an advertising agency; and a sometime lobbyist at City Hall, Caraway has single-handedly raised the profile of the NAACP election by plastering the southern sector of this city with billboards bearing his color picture and name. Alcorn has financed his own billboard campaign, but he has only two, and the photograph on each sign only shows his face in two tones.

"Mr. Caraway wants to run for political office. He is using this as a springboard and a barometer to see what the ceiling is about him," says Brenda Fields, the chairman of the NAACP education committee and a staunch Alcorn supporter.

Alcorn claims that at the same time Caraway is trying to boost his name identification, he is buying votes for himself, paying people to become NAACP members in the hopes that they can add votes to Caraway's side come November. In the past few months, the membership, Alcorn says, has ballooned by nearly 1,000 people, bringing the total roster to roughly 2,500. In the NAACP local branch election held two years ago, only 600 members voted.

Alcorn and Fields contend that Caraway has not been an active participant in the local NAACP for the past several years. His attendance at board meetings is irregular, they claim, and he failed to convene even one meeting during his six-month stint as a committee chair.

For his part, Caraway doesn't deny that his election as NAACP local president could be a stepping-stone to public office.

"I am a person with vision," he says, laughing. "I might want to be president of the United States of America someday." Nor does he distance himself from the effort to sign up new members in the local branch in time for the November election. "People are signing up. It has really created excitement, the challenge, and the possibility of change."

But Caraway vigorously disputes the charge that he was a delinquent committee chair. "That never happened," he says. "I participated in the local [branch] in my capacity as first vice president."

Caraway also tries to separate himself from the efforts to get Alcorn disqualified. "We want him in the race so we can beat him."

Candidate Jordan Blair, the newspaperman who has kept a much lower profile in the race, says he is not concerned about whether the national office disqualifies Alcorn, as long as they make their move before rather than after the election. "Otherwise this will always be lingering," he says. Rather than trying to oust Alcorn, Blair says, he has his own reasons for running. "I feel I have the best vision to make it a more inclusive organization."

Nevertheless, Blair has scheduled a news conference on Wednesday to introduce his vice presidential nominee, Robert Pitrie, an auto dealer. He will also express his concerns about "several acts of improprieties during this campaign that have surfaced," his press release states.

Obviously, the rancor and divisiveness that has scarred Lee Alcorn's tenure as president will continue to mark this campaign--whether he is in the race or not.


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