Mfume is on top and running hard, while Kondner struggles on a shoestring

October 25, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The people gathered around the meeting table in the parsonage of Granite Presbyterian Church were saddled with rural concerns: a leaking landfill, an abandoned missile site and lack of an historic designation they believe would insulate them from creeping development.

Rep. Kweisi Mfume, the area's congressman, sat at the head of the table calmly taking notes, stopping only to nod agreement and to occasionally offer advice.

The 7th District Democrat is seeking his fourth two-year term in the Nov. 3 election, and on this night in Granite he is working hard to win votes.

Mr. Mfume, 44, is being opposed by Kenneth Kondner, a 50-year-old Republican who won only 15 percent of the vote when he ran against Mr. Mfume in 1990, but the congressman is not taking his seat for granted.

The congressman has been campaigning vigorously to strengthen his political base in Baltimore and to prevent his challenger from gaining a toehold in suburban areas such as Granite.

Before redistricting, Granite -- where voters are white, conservative and overwhelmingly registered as Democratic -- was part of the 2nd District represented by Helen D. Bentley, a Republican.

Now it belongs to the 7th, the core of which remains distinctly black and urban.

People are noticing the change.

"The response we have had in the past two months from your office overshadows anything we had in the past from any officer holder above the council level," Thomas DeMay, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association, told Mr. Mfume.

But Mr. Mfume's support was not unanimous. George Strohmer, the owner of a 250-acre farm in Granite, had this to say:

"The congressman has accumulated some farms in his district, and we're going to have to get him straight on how to vote on the issues. I have to say, to this point, his voting record on farms issues leaves something to be desired."

Mr. Mfume touted his record on environmental issues and cited his endorsement from the Sierra Club. "One of the consequences that go with that [a strong environmental record] is that you have a not-so-perfect record on farm issues," he explained.

While the 7th District contains many middle-class areas, it also includes the poor sections of East and West Baltimore, where the day-to-day issues are far more dire than suburban sprawl.

Many of Mr. Mfume's city constituents want programs addressing basic health care, public safety, education and drug treatment, and he has championed their issues in Congress.

As a member of the House Banking Committee, Mr. Mfume made an unsuccessful attempt to win passage of legislation to make it more difficult to evict public housing tenants because family members are convicted of crimes.

He successfully sponsored other legislation protecting public housing tenants from eviction when their wages aren't paid on time.

Mr. Kondner, a dental technician from Woodlawn, is running a low-budget, low-manpower campaign, and he readily concedes it would be an understatement to call his campaign a long shot.

"The odds against me are astronomical. It is almost impossible," Mr. Kondner said, adding: "I'm not a politician; I'm not even a lawyer. I am just a concerned citizen. If I did not run, there would be no Republican running in the 7th Congressional District."

Mr. Kondner has raised less than $5,000 to fuel his bid to unseat Mr. Mfume, who reported raising more than $242,000 as of June.

More than $80,000 of Mr. Mfume's campaign money came from special interest committees, according to the Federal Election Commission.

As the incumbent, Mr. Mfume enjoys other advantages, of course.

The franking privilege allows members of Congress to send mail to constituents without paying postage costs.

Mr. Mfume has sent two newsletters to constituents this year.

One detailed congressional work on health-care reform.

Another talked about congressional action on a smorgasbord of issues.

Both featured Mr. Mfume prominently.

Mr. Kondner calculates that it would cost a non-incumbent such as himself more than $65,000 just in postage to produce each of those mailings.

Mr. Mfume has another advantage, of course: He is a Democrat '' in a district that has eight Democrats for every Republican.

But Mr. Kondner is forging ahead, nonetheless.

"We need a two-party system desperately," Mr. Kondner said. "I am very dissatisfied with what government is doing, particularly what's happening in the 7th."

Mr. Kondner is campaigning on a platform of no new taxes, and he believes an effective death penalty would deter crime.

He would push for it to be used against murderers and big-time drug dealers.

"I would never vote for a tax increase," Mr. Kondner said. "If I did, I would immediately resign from Congress."

Mr. Kondner is having a difficult time getting his message out. He said he has attempted to campaign across the district but has been invited to few political forums.

"I go where I am invited," he said.

For his part, Mr. Mfume has mostly looked beyond his Republican opponent.

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