MINISTER RODNEY Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam Mosque No. 12, is the odds-on favorite to succeed J. Whyatt "Jerry" Mondesire as president of the Philadelphia NAACP, insiders say.

Members of the chapter are scheduled to vote Saturday. The election is mired in controversy because the national NAACP suspended Mondesire and three board members.

Muhammad, born Rodney Ellis in Chicago, is first vice president of the Philly NAACP chapter. He faces opposition for the presidency from two other candidates:

*  The Rev. Pamela K. Williams, a community activist and retired School District of Philadelphia police officer.

* Thomas Logan, a retired Philadelphia AFL-CIO official who first ran for NAACP president in 2000, when then-Mayor John F. Street supported him in a bid to oust Mondesire.

Muhammad's critics, including Logan, claim that Muhammad was "handpicked" by Mondesire to become chapter president.

Muhammad has denied that, saying that several people in the city encouraged him to run after he was named first vice president when Mondesire and the others were suspended in April.

Muhammad, 62, came to Philadelphia in 1991 to lead Mosque No. 12.

"The NAACP's fight yesterday was segregation," Muhammad said. "Today's fight is gentrification. They are pushing us out.

"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."

Muhammad said that at a recent meeting in Germantown to plan the future of the neighborhood, "there were no black people there" - even though Germantown is 85 percent black.

Williams, 51, is pastor of the Ark of Refuge Tabernacle Church in West Philadelphia. She said that she learned to be a community activist from her mother, longtime community leader Novella Williams.

"I want to restore people's faith and trust in the NAACP," Williams said. "I want to bring back accountability so that people will see where their money is going. I will bring back integrity so people will know our word is our bond."

Williams said she decided to become more active in the NAACP partly because she became angry in the past several years at what she saw as "top black elected officials hounding" former Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman.

Williams said Ackerman had worked with parent groups to warn them to fight for their children because political forces wanted to close dozens of schools.

Logan said his main goal as president would be "to restore public confidence" in the NAACP.

"This thing about misuse of funds: How do you get donors to come back and support the efforts of this great organization when they see money is misused or misdirected? That's a tall challenge we have to deal with."

He said the NAACP offices had been without electricity and water for the past eight months.

Saturday's election is to be held from noon to 3 p.m. at the offices of Beech Cos., 15th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue.

A. Bruce Crawley, the founder and former head of the African-American Chamber of Commerce, said the local and national NAACP "need new leadership now more than any time in the last 25 to 35 years."

"It's starting to be a crisis situation in the local and national black community," Crawley said.

National NAACP officials suspended Mondesire and the former board members - Donald "Ducky" Birts, restaurant owner Sid Booker and the Rev. Elisha Morris - after the board members' questions about Mondesire's financial management became public.

The eyes of the national NAACP are on Philadelphia because of questions about how Mondesire may have shifted donations made to the Philadelphia NAACP to his Next Generation Community Development Corp., and then moved back to an NAACP bank account.

Also, national NAACP leaders are expected to be in Philadelphia today to plan for the NAACP national convention here next July.

A court hearing is scheduled for today in Philadelphia asking for Mondesire to be found in contempt of court for not providing information to the former board members.

Birts, Booker and Morris asked the national office to investigate after saying they learned that two checks totaling $10,500 intended for the Philadelphia NAACP were instead deposited into a Next Generation bank account. One was a $10,000 check from Market East Associates, which sought a casino license in the city.

Mondesire later announced his support for awarding the casino license to Market East. The dispute over the checks was first reported by the now-defunct AxisPhilly website.

Neither Mondesire nor attorneys who represented him returned phone calls yesterday.

Thomas Kenney, a Center City lawyer who represented Mondesire in August, said yesterday that he no longer represents him.

On Twitter: @ValerieRussDN