INDIANAPOLIS - The National Organization for Women has elected a 56-year-old Maryland woman as its next president in a close win over a rival who had been endorsed by the group's current president.

NOW said that Terry O'Neill, who is white, defeated Latifa Lyles, a 33-year-old African-American woman from Washington, D.C., during the organization's three-day national conference in Indianapolis. The group did not release totals from Saturday's vote.

Lyles had been enthusiastically endorsed by current NOW President Kim Gandy, who retires from NOW on July 20 after eight years as the group's president.

Gandy had said that Lyles, who would have been NOW's youngest president ever, would "take NOW to a different level" by recognizing the nation's "generational shift."

Lyles had said that she could help give NOW, with a mostly white and over-40 membership, a new image of youth and diversity that would appeal to younger feminists.

O'Neill, who is one of the oldest at the start of a term, said in a prepared statement that she was "honored and eager" to lead NOW.

"My experience with domestic violence, as an abused wife, left me humiliated and embarrassed," she said. "I only began to talk about this publicly five years ago as I realized that to keep quiet was to continue the abuse. I want to empower women and telling my story does just that."

NOW press secretary Mai Shiozakiis referred calls on Saturday's vote tally to O'Neill, who declined yesterday to be interviewed. She referred calls about the vote totals to her spokeswoman.

"It's been quite a whirlwind and I don't have those," O'Neill said.

O'Neill's spokeswoman, Hannah Olanoff, said yesterday that the vote totals were not immediately available but she said that it was a "close election," as had been expected.

She said that NOW would hold a news conference at the end of the week to discuss the election.

O'Neill, who has taught law at Tulane University, was NOW's vice president for membership from 2001-05. Most recently, she has been chief of staff for a county council member in Maryland's Montgomery County. *