Court to decide Mitchell's residency Candidate to remain on ballot but could be kept from office

November 02, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's election board voted unanimously last night to ask the Circuit Court to decide whether Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a Democratic candidate for a 4th District City Council seat, has met the residency requirements to hold city office.

The board's vote followed a two-hour hearing on whether Mr. Mitchell had met the City Charter requirement of living in his center city district for a year before Tuesday's general election.

The hearing centered on whether Mr. Mitchell, a member of one of Baltimore's most prominent political families, actually was residing at 1230 Druid Hill Ave., his current address, a year ago.

Election board records show that Mr. Mitchell was registered to vote in November 1994 at his parents' home in Guilford and that he did not change his registration to the Druid Hill Avenue address until February.

But Mr. Mitchell and several neighbors at the Druid Hill Avenue address testified that he actually had been living there since June 1994.

Deputy Attorney General Ralph S. Tyler said after the hearing that the court action could be filed today.

Mr. Tyler said Mr. Mitchell's name still will appear on Tuesday's ballot, along with those of 4th District Democratic council incumbents Sheila Dixon and Agnes B. Welch.

Each district elects three council members, and the three Democratic candidates have no Republican challengers.

But if the court finds that Mr. Mitchell did not meet the residency requirement, he could be prohibited from taking office.

Election board President Marvin L. Cheatham said the board decided to seek a declaratory judgment from the Circuit Court after being advised by its attorneys privately that it did not have the authority to disqualify Mr. Mitchell from appearing on the ballot.

The board's decision left Mr. Mitchell's lawyer, Larry S. Gibson, outraged and incredulous.

"This makes no sense at all," said Mr. Gibson, a University of Maryland law professor and campaign chairman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Mr. Gibson argued that the board had the power to decide whether Mr. Mitchell was qualified to run and said that the attorney general's office misled his client into believing that it would make a definitive decision last night.

"This has placed a kind of cloud over Mr. Mitchell's candidacy," Mr. Gibson said.

But Mr. Tyler said the board had acted responsibly in holding the hearing.

"They bent over backward to give [Mr. Mitchell] an opportunity" to make his case, he said.

During the hearing, prompted by information received last week from the state special prosecutor, Mr. Tyler noted that voter registration is "a critical fact in determining domicile" and that Mr. Mitchell had not registered before February to vote in the 4th District.

Mr. Tyler also noted that Mr. Mitchell was unable to produce records showing that he lived there.

But Mr. Mitchell said he moved into a second-floor apartment on Druid Hill Avenue in June 1994 after he graduated from law school. The building is owned by his father, a physician who uses the ground floor for his practice.

He said he did not change his voter registration until after the 1994 elections because he had not decided to live there permanently and seek public office until his cousin, Clarence M. Mitchell IV, won a seat in the House of Delegates. "I wanted to wait and see how Clarence did before I jumped into the water," he said.

David Pak, a grocer in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Ave., testified that he has seen Mr. Mitchell in the neighborhood for more than a year. "We would see Keiffer come in and purchase eggs, bacon and candy bars," he said.

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