Voters elected minister Rodney Muhammad president of Philadelphia's NAACP chapter Saturday, and he promised to bring stability and direction to a group riven by controversy.
One defeated candidate immediately sought to challenge the results of the three-person race to replace J. Whyatt "Jerry" Mondesire, who was ousted by the national NAACP along with three board members in April.
Election workers announced the winner to a rain-soaked crowd of voters, candidates, and supporters who waited outside the Beech Cos. offices near Temple University in North Philadelphia. Some had been there since before the three-hour voting period began at noon and remained as heavy rain fell through the late afternoon.
NAACP election workers said that 261 people cast ballots, and that Muhammad had won the presidency, but that details of voting totals would not be provided until later this month.
Muhammad, the local chapter first vice president and leader of the Nation of Islam Mosque No. 12, defeated retired union official Thomas Logan and West Philadelphia pastor Pamela Williams.
"I want to contest the election," Williams told poll workers as soon as they announced the results. She said that it was wrong to withhold individual vote totals and that candidates for lower offices had improperly served as election workers.
Muhammad, born Rodney Ellis in Chicago, has been criticized as the hand-picked successor to Mondesire, an allegation he denied. Mondesire and board members Donald Birts, the Rev. Elisha Morris, and Sid Booker were suspended in what was said to be a way to quiet a nasty public feud over Mondesire's financial management.
The board members questioned a $10,000 donation to the chapter from Market East Associates, a group then trying to win a Philadelphia casino license. Mondesire publicly declared his support for the Market8Casino.
Mondesire has said that half the donation went to an NAACP program to encourage academic achievement among African American youth, that some was used to restore gas service at the NAACP offices, and that the rest was deposited in a bank account.
"We will work toward healing," Muhammad said.
His first actions will be to review the chapter's membership roll, seeking to improve its accuracy by striking the names of dead and long inactive members, then building the size of the group, he said.
Before voting concluded, Logan, who sought the chapter presidency in 2000, said he would support whomever won the presidency.
"If we don't have change, I don't think the NAACP, and especially the Philadelphia branch, is going to survive," he said.
Muhammad came to Philadelphia to lead the North Philadelphia mosque more than two decades ago.
Last week, he told the Philadelphia Daily News that though the old fight was about segregation, the new one was about gentrification.
"They are pushing us out," he said. "We've got to really educate our community on a more aggressive level to teach people the telltale signs their community is targeted for gentrification."
All around the Beech Cos. site, as neighbors have pointed out, apartments are being built and renovated to accommodate Temple's growing student body. Many people worry rising property values will push out long-time neighborhood residents.
The election took place against the backdrop of nationwide protests over grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, Mo., not to indict white police officers in the deaths of African Americans Eric Garner and Michael Brown. Those cases, and the treatment of black citizens by white officers, were on voters' minds.
Michelle Raye said it was a main reason she voted despite the miserable weather. PETA would be more outspoken over the death of a dog than the local NAACP has been over the killing of two unarmed black men, she said.
Kevin Logan, standing nearby, agreed and said, "Our civil rights are regressing, not progressing."