Dennis Powell and Ari Zorn

Dennis Powell, left, scored an “overwhelming” victory Wednesday, holding his seat as president of the Berkshire branch of the NAACP after Ari Zorn, right, emerged as a challenger last month.

PITTSFIELD — Dennis Powell held his seat Wednesday as president of the Berkshire branch of the NAACP, after a turbulent contest that arose when group member Ari Zorn emerged as a surprise challenger last month.

At its Wednesday election of officers, the group’s nearly 800 members voted by secure email ballot to elect Powell to continue steering the nonprofit for another two-year term in the volunteer position.

It will be Powell’s fourth term, and it begins Jan. 1. Exact voting numbers were not available.

With the group’s election committee still meeting, Powell paused to tell The Eagle that the vote was “overwhelming.” He said he will not hold the group’s monthly meetings until January, to give tensions from a “divisive” race time to cool.

“There needs to be a lot of healing,” he said. “We’ll come back in January and start the year fresh.”

Zorn, 53, of Egremont, declared his candidacy at the group’s October meeting, and soon presented a platform suggesting that current leadership needed to modernize to expand its reach, and to engage more with women and young people. The office of president was the only contested election.

In a statement Wednesday, Zorn offered congratulations to Powell and said he plans to remain engaged. He said he was asked to run for the chapter’s leadership and now will pursue other ways to achieve his aims.

“My goal is to unite all people while improving the community and the way we view each other. I have only just begun,” he said. “I feel like this will set me free to follow my mission with a new like-minded organization that you will hear about shortly. I am very excited about this group of individuals and what the future has to bring.

“The only time you fail is when you don’t try,” he said.

In an interview before the vote, Zorn said his timing was, in part, a response to the new awakening around racism ignited by George Floyd’s death in May while in the custody of Minneapolis Police.

Powell’s controversial remarks during his speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in Great Barrington in June — about training of U.S. police by Israeli special forces in chokehold tactics like that used on Floyd — also seeped into his decision to run, Zorn said.

Zorn, who also spoke at the rally, was adopted by a Jewish couple. He said he found Powell’s remarks to be divisive, and said he wants the group to unify more with different organizations and causes.

The rally, which the group sponsored, bumped up donations and tripled the group’s membership.

Powell, 75, of Pittsfield, said his work over the past six years forging community partnerships has made strides to combat racism and further equality in a rural county.

The nonprofit was founded in 1909 by a group of civil rights activists that included Great Barrington native W.E.B. Du Bois. It has more than 500,000 members nationwide, and works to counter race-based discrimination and to ensure equality for all people. The group’s Berkshire branch was reestablished eight years ago.

While the group is run by volunteers, Powell said that it might be possible to eventually hire an executive director, like nearly all other NAACP branches in the U.S.

Heather Bellow can be reached at or

413-329-6871. On Twitter @BE_hbellow.