His leadership is marked by big successes and some stinging defeats

The Human Rights Campaign announced in a press release Saturday, August 27, that its president, Joe Solmonese, “will not renew his contract,” which expires March 31, 2012.

Rebecca Tillet, a co-chair of HRC’s Board of Directors, noted in the release that the board had asked Solmonese to give them six months notice before leaving his position, “and he’s done that.”

Solmonese did not respond to this reporter’s request for interview but said, in the HRC press release, “Leading HRC has been an inspiring experience and a complete privilege."

"I could not be more proud of our staff, our volunteer leadership and of the extraordinary progress we've made together as a community,” said Solmonese.

"HRC has never been stronger and after nearly seven years, this is the right moment for me to move on," he said.

Solmonese took the helm of the nation’s largest LGBT political organization in 2005, following an 11-month stint by his predecessor, Massachusetts State Senator Cheryl Jacques. Jacques followed a nine-year tenure by Elizabeth Birch. Prior to Birch, the organization was lead by its founder, Steve Endean; its first Executive Director, Vic Basile; and Basile’s successor, Tim McFeeley.

Solmonese hinted he would be exploring “new professional possibilities” and would continue to be involved in such activities as fighting marriage bans and “ensuring President Obama is reelected for a second term.”

That latter comment will almost certainly fuel speculation by some that Solmonese is bucking for a position with the Obama White House or re-election campaign.

In HRC’s release, Anne Fay, a co-chair of the HRC Foundation Board of Directors, called Solmonese an “outstanding leader” and credited him with putting HRC in “the best place the organization has ever been.”

“Not only has our community secured historic victories,” said Fay, “but our membership is larger and more active than at any time in our history, and our financial health is secure even in these difficult economic times.”

The release also credited Solmonese with leading HRC at a time when the LGBT civil rights movement has seen many gains –including repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, passage of hate crimes legislation, and passage of a marriage equality law in New York. Critics, no doubt, will also point out that, with Solmonese at the helm of the largest and most influential LGBT political organization in the country, there has been little to no real movement on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stinging ballot box losses on marriage equality in California and Maine, and no prospects for building significant Republican Party support for LGBT issues at a time when control of Congress is split between the two major parties.

According to the release, HRC’s membership grew from 750,000 to “more than 1,000,000” under Solmonese, who took over the helm of the organization from then Executive Director Elizabeth Birch in 2005.

The organization issued the press release a day after lesbian blogger Pam Spaulding (pamshouseblend.com) posted an entry saying that she had learned “from a trusted source in a position to know” that Solmonese would leave in December. The HRC release indicated the organization has formed a search committee to select a new president. The release does not indicate when Solmonese will leave.

HRC has a deep bench on staff. Managing Director Susanne Salkind, the organization’s Number 2, is an experienced attorney with political and management experience. She has served as deputy for the 2004 campaign to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, is liaison between the staff and boards, and has been heavily involved in electoral programs. HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse has been responsible for mobilizing the group’s one million supporters and members to take action at the local, state, and federal levels. Before joining the HRC staff in 2006, he headed MassEquality. David Smith served as communications director for the organization from 1995 to 2003, then became Vice President for Programs, directing policy and strategy for the organization. He has experience on Capitol Hill, as a former aide to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, and deep ties to other national LGBT groups, including the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center.

Longtime HRC official and supporter Hilary Rosen said she thinks HRC now needs to be both a “visionary” and a “political strategist.”

“Elizabeth [Birch] was a visionary who shone a light to the straight world at a time when we were more invisible,” said Rosen. “Joe was a political strategist at a time when we had a President and a Congress who wanted to work with us to get things done. The next leader,” said Rosen, “will have to be able to do some of both….”

The HRC release says the organization’s four volunteer co-chairs will select the search committee and hire an executive search firm to help with the effort.

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