The National Board of the American Civil Liberties Union voted unanimously to appoint Anthony D. Romero, a Ford Foundation executive and public interest attorney, as the sixth executive director in the institution's 81-year history.
"I hope to begin my tenure as the leader of this vitally important organization by sparking a new dialogue about the bedrock values of American democracy," said the 35-year-old Romero. "My overarching goal is to promote a new generation of committed civil libertarians and civil rights activists."
"Even though we have come so far," Romero said, "our nation faces serious and continuing civil liberties challenges - widespread racial profiling, threats to reproductive freedom, hostility to immigrants, a burgeoning prison population and, most importantly, a generation of young people who do not fully embrace or appreciate the need for constant vigilance and defense of our constitutional freedoms."
Romero also said that he is eager to explore the impact of science and new technologies on freedom of expression, privacy and discrimination. "The ACLU must do as much for the future as it does for the present," he said.
"Leading the ACLU will be a life's dream and aspiration come true," added Romero, who becomes the first Latino and openly gay man to head the ACLU.
Nadine Strossen, the ACLU's President who led a 14-member committee that recommended Romero, called him "brilliant, dedicated, determined, diligent, resourceful and successful."
"Anthony is an idealist, bold and creative in his vision and strategy, but skeptical and realistic in his tactics," Strossen said. "His career exemplifies the adage that those who prepare for opportunities are the most likely to discover or create them."
Romero has worked at the Ford Foundation for almost a decade. He is currently the Director of Human Rights and International Cooperation, which is the foundation's largest program with $90 million in grants last year. He joined Ford in 1992 as a program officer in the Rights and Social Justice Program and, after less than four years, was promoted to become the one of the youngest Directors in Ford's history.
Before joining the Ford Foundation, Romero worked at the Rockefeller Foundation. Born in the Bronx of immigrant Puerto Rican parents, he is fluent in Spanish. He graduated from Stanford Law School and Princeton University.
Romero will take the helm of the ACLU from Ira Glasser, who has served as Executive Director since 1978. During Glasser's 23-year tenure, the ACLU remade itself into a truly national organization, with expanded legal and legislative programs, a powerful communications program, a growing $30 million endowment, a strong management system and staffed offices covering every state as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
"The ACLU Executive Director is the conductor of an often-brassy orchestra," Glasser said. "He does not need to play all the instruments, but must be able to envision, organize and lead the performance. I am confident that Anthony Romero is the best person to be the ACLU's next conductor."
Glasser announced his retirement last August, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his wife of 41 years, his four adult children and two grandchildren. "Retirement for me does not mean a change of career," he said of his future. "It means the end of work."
Commenting on Glasser's tenure and the Romero appointment, Strossen said: "Ira Glasser brought to the ACLU a genuinely rare combination of intellectual leadership and managerial skills. His qualities as a civil liberties visionary and an organizational architect are what enabled him to fulfill the ACLU's mission."
"The infrastructure to defend fundamental rights that Ira Glasser leaves us is truly a legacy of liberty," she added. "It makes us confident in our ability to manage the transition to his successor, Anthony Romero."
The President of the Ford Foundation, Susan V. Berresford, said, "We feel fortunate to have drawn on Anthony's abundant talents and energies over eight years. He has been an outstanding leader and valued colleague throughout the time we have worked together."
"Anthony will bring the ACLU intellectual leadership, management skills of a high order, and a deep commitment to rights advocacy," Berresford added.
As part of his vision for the ACLU, Romero said that he would work to increase, diversify and better utilize the ACLU membership and strengthen its affiliate offices. "The ACLU is the only organization that can serve as a wholesale bulwark against attacks on our civil liberties," he said.
"While most civil rights and civil liberties organizations focus on a specific issue or a particular constituency," he said, "the ACLU is the only organization that defends all of our constitutional liberties and the rights of all Americans."
"Most of our cases," Romero said, "come to us from ordinary people who need the ACLU because they have been denied basic rights guaranteed under our Constitution. They need our help to fight back."
As to issues, Romero said, "first and most importantly, the ACLU's commitment to free speech must be undiminished."
"From my work in countries such as China and Kenya, I have come to appreciate the central role of free speech in securing other civil rights and civil liberties," he said. "This is a core ACLU issue that will require continued advocacy and vigilance."
But he added that the other core ACLU issues -- including religious liberty, reproductive freedom and women's rights, racial justice, immigrants' rights and lesbian and gay equality -- will also require increased attention and resources.
Romero said that his commitment to civil rights, civil liberties and social justice comes from his life experience. "My memories of discrimination, homophobia and poverty stand in sharp contrast to the dignity and love I got from my family," he said.