NAACP Suspends Virginia Leader for Endorsing a Republican
(CNSNews.com) - The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, citing a policy against "public partisan political activity," has suspended one of its Virginia leaders for endorsing a Republican candidate, even though that same NAACP official worked for the re-election of a Democrat six years ago.
Paul C. Gillis has been suspended from his current post as president of the NAACP's Suffolk, Virginia branch for endorsing Republican George Allen in the state's US Senate race.
But in 1994, when Gillis served as head of the Virginia NAACP, he was a paid campaign worker for Democratic Senator Chuck Robb's re-election effort -- working for both Robb and the NAACP, without provoking sanctions from the civil rights group.
On Monday, members of the Suffolk NAACP branch were notified that their outspoken leader for 10 years had been suspended by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for endorsing Allen's Senate bid in March.
In his suspension letter to Gillis, Mfume said Gillis' endorsement of Allen threatens the NAACP's tax-exempt status and puts the organization in danger of "irreparable harm."
Although Gillis was unavailable for comment, spokesmen for both Allen and Robb confirmed to CNSNews.com that Gillis once worked for Sen. Robb's re-election.
At the time, Gillis was an outspoken critic of then-Governor Allen's plans to abolish parole and limit welfare in Virginia. Gillis once referred to Allen as "Howdy Doody," Allen spokesman Tim Murtaugh told CNSNews.com.
However, Gillis now says that Allen's proposals, along with his anti-crime initiatives, have made black neighborhoods safer in Virginia, and for that reason he is endorsing Allen.
Gillis insists that he has a Constitutional right as an individual to endorse any candidate, and he says he made it clear that he was speaking as an individual - not as a representative of the NAACP - when he announced his support for Allen.
Furthermore, said Gillis, Mfume has publicly endorsed candidates, too -- appearing on stage with President Bill Clinton during Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign and chanting "four more years" with the rest of the crowd.
Besides working for the Robb campaign in 1994, Gillis -- while serving as president of the Virginia NAACP -- endorsed Republican Mark Earley for Virginia attorney general in 1997. But even Gillis' endorsement of Earley did not result in NAACP disciplinary measures against him.
Gillis believes that Sen. Robb has something to do with his current suspension. Gillis says he thinks Robb urged Mfume, a former Democratic congressman, to suspend Gillis to help Robb with black Virginia voters.
The latest Virginia Commonwealth University poll shows 30 percent of black Virginia voters support Allen, an unusually strong showing for a Republican candidate in Virginia.
Robb's campaign denies the charge.
"Mr. Gillis' problems with the NAACP are his and his alone," Robb spokesman Jim Mulhall told CNSNews.com. "We hope that he works it out."
NAACP spokesperson Sheila Douglas told CNSNews.com that Gillis' suspension was an "internal matter" that would not be discussed with the media.
Murtaugh, the spokesman for Allen, calls the suspension a "blatant political move" by Mfume and Robb. He says he thinks the Robb campaign is "scared to death" by the large percentage of African-American Virginians who apparently favor Allen.
Virginia Republican Party spokesman Ed Matricardi told CNSNews.com that he believes Mfume is being hypocritical for suspending Gillis.
"Evidently, it's okay if you endorse a Democrat -- hey, that's a First Amendment right. If you endorse a Republican - hey, you're out of here, you're suspended," said Matricardi.