Mitchell returns to Annapolis Former legislator now a lobbyist

March 02, 1992|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Annapolis Bureau

ANNAPOLIS -- Clarence M. Mitchell III, beginning a new career as a lobbyist for a state employees' union, swept into Annapolis the other day like a long-lost son.

It was a homecoming for the man who spent 24 years in the legislature as the ranking heir in Maryland's first family of civil rights before a corruption conviction and a 16-month stint in federal prison.

Women within reach were kissed. Bruce C. Bereano, the ubiquitous State House lobbyist, got a bear hug.

"Good to see you," Mr. Mitchell said. Like almost everyone else, Mr. Bereano offered encouragement and help.

"It feels good to be back," said Mr. Mitchell, 52. "I was 22 years old when I came here. I grew up here."

Mr. Mitchell is lobbying part time for the Maryland Classified Employees Association, one of the state's largest employee unions.

After years of championing lofty issues such as civil rights, his first assignment was to testify recently for a minor workers' compensation bill involving deputy sheriffs.

After waiting patiently in a House committee room for more than four hours, Mr. Mitchell offered a few minutes of testimony.

"There will be issues of more gravity," he predicted with a chuckle. A few days later, Mr. Mitchell testified against a significant bill that would allow the state Department of Transportation to scrap the merit system for its employees.

The former lawmaker is a little heavier and a little more gray than when he left Annapolis in 1986 to run for Congress. But intact is the powerful baritone that could captivate the state Senate chamber.

Mr. Mitchell said he has been doing public relations for several corporate concerns, including Miller Brewing Co., the Can Manufacturers Institute and Guardian Health Corp. of New York.

He declined to elaborate on his duties.

Mr. Mitchell is just the latest former legislator to return to )R Annapolis as a lobbyist. Also returning this year are former Sen. Catherine I. Riley, who represents cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris; and former Baltimore County executive and former Sen. Dennis F. Rasmussen, who has about 10 clients.

Some legislators say privately that Mr. Mitchell's lobbying will be crippled by his 1987 influence-peddling conviction in the Wedtech scandal.

Mr. Mitchell disagrees and predicts that he ultimately will be cleared of what he believes were politically inspired charges. He believes the Reagan administration targeted him and other black elected officials for prosecution.

"That was a political fight between [former U.S. Attorney General Edwin W. Meese III] and myself," Mr. Mitchell said.

"Meese had the U.S. attorney's office, and I had myself. Those weren't fair odds."

Del. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat who represents Mr. Mitchell's old district in West Baltimore, said most legislators will not hold Mr. Mitchell's past against him.

"I think that Clarence is going to be a very effective lobbyist," Mr. Cummings said. "But it seems as if our society says once convicted, you must pay until you die. I disagree with that."

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