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Boston NAACP officially names Curry new president

Bridgit Brown | 12/7/2010, 7:54 p.m.

It’s official.

Mike Curry, the attorney and community health lobbyist, is president-elect of the Boston branch of the NAACP.

Curry defeated former state Sen. Bill Owens, a longtime civil rights activist, by a total of 78 votes in an election that saw Curry earn 245 votes to Owen’s 167. Of the 78 contested ballots, NAACP officials allowed six of those, making the difference not enough to alter the Curry victory.

The election last Monday was held at the Roxbury Community College (RCC) and showed a renewed interest in the venerable civil rights organization. In all, 490 registered NAACP members cast ballots.

It is now Curry’s job to sustain the momentum. But first he wants to streamline the registration process in order to avoid some of the confusion that occurred during this year’s election.

The 43-year-old Curry is legislative affairs director for the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers and succeeds Karen Payne, who stepped down earlier this year to pursue and unsuccessfully run for state representative.

Last Monday night’s voting at RCC comes as some members of the nation’s oldest branch say the Boston chapter is not doing enough to reach out to younger potential members nor speaking out more on the issues of the day. That is affecting the NAACP’s chances of growing in the Boston area and how it can address civil rights complaints, according to some observers.

Next year will mark the Boston chapter’s 100th anniversary.

Both Curry and Owens and their supporters campaigned aggressively through social media, radio and community newspapers as they sought the two-year term. Members say it’s been years since they’ve seen such an active campaign for the NAACP Boston chapter’s presidency.

Curry’s victory was made more difficult because of the opposition to his candidacy by Juan Cofield, president of the New England area conference of the NAACP and Boston branch treasurer.

But by all accounts, the NAACP’s voting process was not smooth. Questions arose over the handling of online registrations. Because of a computer glitch at the National office, applicants for the Boston branch received errant code numbers. That mistake disqualified dozens of applicants from voting in this year’s election.

Curry knows first hand about the frustration with registering on-line which by all accounts is critical to building membership among the younger generation.  

“I have been an active member for a while and was sitting on the executive member for the past few years,” Curry explained. “The branch doesn’t notify you when it’s time to renew your membership and so if you’re not on top of your own membership you could end up lapsing for six months to a year.”

Such was the case with Curry.  He registered online but was unaware of the NAACP by-laws that required a portion of the membership fees to go to the Boston branch before an applicant is official declared a member. For Curry, the situation was resolved but the problem remained.

“One even bigger challenge for me was the fact that I recruited a lot of people to signup online and then it was disturbing when I found out that their votes were not going to count,” Curry explained. “That’s Generation X and Y, the folks that don’t write checks…I’m looking forward to working within the local and national organization to fix some of these issues.”