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Bil Browning

Who Will Be the Next Leader of HRC?

Filed By Bil Browning | February 15, 2012 6:15 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Brian Ellner, Chad Griffin, Chuck Wolfe, Elizabeth Birch, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, Jim Dabakis, Kate Kendell, Kevin Jennings, Patrick Guerriero, Randi Weingarten, Sean Eldridge, Tobias Wolff

The Advocate recently put out a list of folks they think "might succeed Joe Solmonese" as the head of the Human Rights Campaign, but let's take a deeper look at who insiders are actually speculating will end up with the job.

The Advocate's short list includes former Log Cabin Republican head Patrick Guerriero, former HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch, Victory Fund head Chuck Wolfe, and Freedom to Marry's Sean Eldridge. weingarten-griffin.jpgWhile all four have been mentioned by those knowledgeable about the proceedings, my sources say none of them have been seriously considered.

HRC has tied itself closely to the Obama administration. Hiring the former head of Log Cabin Republicans would be political suicide. Birch, while respected for her insider knowledge, was also responsible for a lot of the animosity between the trans community and the LGBT giant; picking her would further damage an already tenuous relationship. Wolfe has been telegraphing his desire for the position for years and is seen as too eager and hungry for a promotion in the LGBT power structure. Eldridge, who is only 25, is considered too young and green to handle a multimillion dollar organization (although I'd keep my eye on him as a future contender to the LGBT throne).

Not on the list is openly gay Utah Democratic Chair Jim Dabakis who has publicly taken his name out of the running despite previous rumors that he had already accepted the job. Also not listed is National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell. Kendell is always at the top of everyone's wish list to take the reigns of HRC, but was heard frequently telling Creating Change attendees that she had no interest in the position.

With half of the Advocate's list automatically ruled out, let's take a peek at who's left on their list and add another name that's being quietly talked about by several people.

Also on the magazine's top ten list is GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings. Jennings served in the Obama administration as assistant deputy secretary for the Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. While his name has surfaced frequently in cocktail conversations, most seem to think that he wouldn't accept the position if it was offered to him. I'm not so sure. I'd keep an eye on Jennings as one of the top contenders for the spot.

American Foundation for Equal Rights founder Chad Griffin also makes the Advocate short list and I'd agree with them on this pick. Griffin is smart, politically savvy, and knows how to raise serious cash for LGBT issues. With several organizational leaders quietly backing Griffin's ascension, I'd put him in the top tier of potential front runners.

Lawyer Brian Ellner, a key figure in New York's marriage equality campaign, is listed by the Advocate which cites his "extensive rolodex" as a potential reason why he might be given the nod. While Ellner has worked closely with the organization on marriage equality, there are plenty of other possible contenders who have an equally impressive list of contacts they can tap for cash. I'm not going to quibble that Ellner is probably on the org's top ten list, but I don't think he'll end up with the job.

Not on the list but a name on everyone's lips is University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Tobias Barrington Wolff. The possibility of a Wolff tenure has been on the lips of many Washington insiders the past couple of weeks, but most seemed to hope he wouldn't get the job. While Wolff is arguably always the smartest man in the room, he's not known for his winning personality. Prickly, pointed, and often curt, Wolff could give Barney Frank a lesson or two in how to alienate allies while still being correct on any issue. While Wolff's incredible intelligence would be a huge benefit to the organization, the group's Executive Director often serves more as a mouthpiece and fundraiser than a nuts-and-bolts political strategist. I doubt he ends up with the job, but stranger things have happened, and he's currently rumored to be at the top of the heap.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten also makes the Advocate's shortlist, and if I were a betting man, I'd put my money on her chances to take the helm of HRC. From what I hear, the biggest challenge to landing Weingarten as the new executive director is a simple one - she's happy with her current job. The first LGBT leader of a national union, she's a darling of progressives and "a superb tactician" according to the New York Times. Weingarten could help tie HRC into the larger progressive movement - a relationship the group desperately needs to remain relevant.

In the end, I think Weingarten will be the search committee's top choice for the position. What remains to be seen is if she'll accept the job if it's offered to her; I'm not sure she would. After years of being led by a male, Weingarten's gender could help energize the lesbian and feminist community and her experience successfully defending turf while advancing a civil rights agenda would usher in a refreshing era at the organization.

If Weingarten passes, I'd put my money behind Griffin. With Prop 8 wins under his belt, I think he brings a level of gravitas, potential, and respect that organization needs while still being young enough to energize a new crop of LGBT leaders and activists. He looks good on TV, has easy access to political leaders, and he knows how to raise cash quickly.

Either of the two would be good choices to lead HRC, but I still pin my hopes on Kate Kendell.


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