Gordon cited growing strain with board members over the group’s management style and future operations.
“I believe that any organization that’s going to be effective will only be effective if the board and the CEO are aligned and I don’t think we are aligned,” Gordon said. “This compromises the ability of the board to be as effective as it can be.”
Gordon said he will give up his duties before month’s end. He spoke by phone from Los Angeles, where he attended the NAACP Image Awards.
Dennis C. Hayes, general counsel of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is expected to serve as interim president, Gordon said. Hayes filled the same role after Kweisi Mfume resigned the presidency in 2004 after nine years.
Gordon said that while the NAACP is an advocacy organization, it needs to be more focused on service and finding solutions.
“I’m used to a CEO running an organization, with the board approving strategy and policy,” Gordon said. “But the NAACP board is very much involved.”
Gordon said he made the decision in recent weeks and told the board at its annual meeting in New York City in mid-February.
NAACP leaders were surprised by his decision and engaged in hours of discussion, he said.
“They expressed disappointment,” Gordon said. “We attempted to see whether there was a way to continue but that didn’t happen.”
Gordon sounded weary as he boarded a flight home to New York City on Sunday.
“I don’t view this as I’m right and they’re wrong. I view this as I see things one way and they see things a different way,” he said. “That misalignment between the CEO and the board is unhealthy.”
Asked about his plans after leaving the NAACP, Gordon said: “I’m going to catch my breath.”
“What I’ve clearly learned in my tenure here is that all is not well in black America, that’s for sure,” he said. “I believe I have a lot to offer. I’ve got to find a way to be engaged that optimizes what it is I bring to the table. My intention is not to disengage, but to find a different way.”
NAACP spokesman Richard McIntire declined to comment.
Gordon, 61, was a surprise pick for the NAACP’s top post. When he took over on August 1, 2005, he had no track record in traditional civil rights circles. He had spent 35 years in the telecommunications industry and retired in 2003 from his post as president of the Retail Markets Group for Verizon Corp.
Critics said he wouldn’t be a good fit for the nearly 98-year-old organization.
However, he smoothed strained relations between the NAACP and the White House, meeting with President Bush three times in less than a year. He used his corporate ties to lend quick assistance to black New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina. And he hired a number of key national employees whose reputations inspired staff members.
Gordon “brought a level of competence that we hadn’t had,” Julian Bond, chairman of the board, said last year.
Bond also has acknowledged that, with 64 members, the NAACP’s board of directors is large and sometimes unwieldy. But he has defended it, saying it allows a wide range of members voices to be heard.
Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor who has followed the NAACP closely for years, was surprised at the news, but added that he had suspected that Gordon may not fit in at the NAACP.
“I thought very early on that there might be a cultural conflict,” Walters said. “Somebody who came out of a corporate culture and was used to a set of agenda items and management style in one field might not have been able to make the adjustment totally to another field.”