Kweisi Mfume: talk show host

THE POLITICAL GAME

February 10, 1993|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Maryland's nimble 7th District congressman, Kweisi Mfume, has figured out one way to handle talk show democracy.

Join it.

L Move over Rush, Montel, Phil and Oprah, make way for Kweisi.

Mr. Mfume now presides over "The Bottom Line," an issues-oriented television program featuring a panel of experts and a participatory, in-studio audience of 80 or so.

In his first four outings, Mr. Mfume has tackled topics such as guns, abortion, and the contraceptive Norplant and its use among teen-agers.

The show, which airs at 11 a.m. Sundays, is watched by about 50,000 Baltimore-area viewers, says WBAL-TV producer Terry Todesco.

Mr. Mfume's fee, in keeping with his own wishes and the rules of the House, goes directly to charity, in this case, the Big Brother program.

"A lot of talk show hosts don't know much about anything. He knows a lot about a million issues," Ms. Todesco says. "Issues are his life."

And a miraculous thing happens on the air.

"He's not a congressman. For this hour, he's just Kweisi Mfume," the producer says.

PD Though the host is admirably objective most of the time, you can

get a feeling for his point of view. On the issue of decriminalization of drugs, for example, he asked an addict:

"Would decriminalization essentially be a license to kill yourself?"

Life after Congress

The day after he lost in the 1986 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, Mike Barnes got a reassuring phone call.

"You will discover," a solicitous friend said, "that you can have your cake and eat it too."

Mr. Barnes was doubtful.

Today, though, ensconced in a comfortable office scant blocks from the White House, he insists it was all for the best.

The former four-term congressman from Montgomery County represents a range of clients -- flight attendants for two airlines, for example, and the Navajo Indian Nation -- offering legal advice, the usual array of connections and political expertise in Washington.

And he does have connections.

He is currently heading a search committee to find a replacement for U.N. Ambassador-designate Madeleine K. Albright, formerly president of the Center for National Policy. a liberal-oriented think tank in Washington. Mr. Barnes is on the board of directors of the center.

Sometimes work leads to leisure: on a trip to California recently, he spent the weekend on Big Sur, playing two rounds of golf at Pebble Beach. While in public life, he didn't play golf.

"I've been able to have a modest impact on some things I care about," he says. "And I have a life."

He is on the phone every day with State Department officials, trying to assist in the return to power of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the deposed president of Haiti.

In the House, Mr. Barnes became an expert on Latin America. He was chairman of the subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs.

His connections in Washington and his knowledge of the Caribbean make him an ideal lawyer for Mr. Aristide.

The exiled Haitian president's interests and the interest of the United States coincide, Mr. Barnes suggests.

Under the current Haitian regime, the worst abuses of the old Haitian police state run by "Papa Doc" Duvalier have returned, he says.

Under Mr. Aristide, his lawyer says, Haitians were going back to their island country.

The 49-year-old father of two remains active in Maryland Democratic Party politics as well, serving now as vice chairman of the state party. Several years ago, he was appointed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to head the 2020 Commission, a blue-ribbon group formed to study growth management in Maryland. And his reputation as a public person who handled the forced transition to private life has grown through the years.

In recent weeks, Republicans Mr. Barnes knows from Capital Hill days have called for the sort of advice he needed in 1986.

Among these was Dan Quayle, the former vice president. Mr. Barnes says he won't identify or discuss any of the individuals who've called him, but he clearly enjoys his role as expert in the public-private transition.

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