Smitherman faces challenge in NAACP election

Nov 26, 2012

The Cincinnati chapter of the NAACP will hold an election for president Tuesday, with incumbent Christopher Smitherman being challenged by a long-time board member and union activist who believes Smitherman has steered the organization from its core civil rights mission.

Bob Richardson, a former officer of Laborers Local 265 and former president of the Cincinnati AFL-CIO Labor Council, is taking on Smitherman, now a Cincinnati city councilman. Smitherman is seeking a fourth two-year term as head of the city’s oldest civil rights organization.

“I think we have seen the NAACP veer off its core principles and turn into a tool for Smitherman and his conservative ideas,’’ said Rob Richardson, a lawyer who is the son of the candidate.

But Smitherman said he took over “an organization that was struggling; and now it is relevant, now it is fiscally sound.”

Under his watch, Smitherman said, the chapter has held “very successful” Freedom Fund dinners and brought the national NAACP convention to Cincinnati in 2008, “an event that has been praised nationally for how well it went.”

Bob Richardson has been critical of Smitherman for this alliances with conservative groups like COAST (Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes) and tea party organizations. Smitherman brought on Christopher Finney, one of COAST’s founders, with ties to the tea party movement, as the organization’s local legal counsel.

In May, Smitherman was the featured speaker at a meeting of the Cincinnati East Tea Party.

“He has a right to do whatever he wants,’’ said Rob Richardson. “But you can’t be leader of the NAACP and a leader of the tea party.”

Smitherman said Finney has done a good job for the NAACP.

“He stopped the building of a new jail; he stopped the red light cameras,’’ Smitherman said. “He has done well for us.”

Smitherman, Rob Richardson said, was “largely silent” this year when African-Americans complained that Republicans in Columbus were passing laws and issuing regulations they believed were aimed at making it harder for African-Americans to vote.

After Richardson complained to the NAACP’s national office, saying that Smitherman was not providing his campaign with updated membership lists and financial records, the national NAACP stepped in to oversee the election.

At the time, Smitherman put out a statement saying he wants “nothing but to hold a fair and open election for the Cincinnati unit of the NAACP.”

About 2,250 members of the local chapter will be eligible to vote in Tuesday’s election.

The election will be held Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the NAACP’s office at 4439 Reading Road in Bond Hill. Voters must bring their IDs and membership receipts or cards.

The votes will be tallied Tuesday night, with representatives of both sides present.