7th District GOP field less lonely this year 5 Republicans seek seat Mfume vacated

Campaign 1996

February 26, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Each day from today through Friday, an article on some of the 32 candidates competing in the March 5 primary election for the seat vacated by Kweisi Mfume in the 7th Congressional District will appear on this page. Today's article is on Republican candidates. Tomorrow: The Ministers.

Throughout the 1990s, Kenneth Kondner has been the 7th Congressional District's lone Republican warrior.

Mr. Kondner was the only member of his party to step forward in the past three elections to oppose Rep. Kweisi Mfume. But on March 5, Mr. Kondner will finally have some company on the ballot as he and four other Republicans run in the party's first 7th District primary in a decade.

In addition to Mr. Kondner, 54, a Woodlawn resident who owns a company that builds orthodontic appliances, the candidates are Victor Clark Jr., 51, a car salesman from Rosemont, in West Baltimore; Robert C. Gumbs, 41, a Northwest Baltimore resident who is retired from the Navy and is working on a master's degree in international studies at Morgan State University; William H. Krehnbrink, 48, who lives in Perry Hall but is a diesel engine mechanic at a shop in the 7th District; and Monroe Cornish, 62, who has run for public office several times and has a history of mental problems.

The last time the Republicans fielded enough candidates for a primary in the overwhelmingly Democratic 7th District was in 1986, the year Mr. Mfume was elected to his first term. That year, St. George I. B. Crosse III won the Republican primary and eventually lost to Mr. Mfume.

"I am a Democrat again, as I was when I started," Mr. Crosse said. "The truth is, as much as I love my Lord, if Jesus Christ ran as a Republican for Congress in the 7th District, they would not elect him."

The prospect of facing Mr. Mfume was less than enticing for Republicans. Nobody ran against him in 1988, and only Mr. Kondner ran in 1990, 1992 and 1994.

"Basically, the party more or less writes this off as a lost cause," Mr. Kondner said.

That was true in the past, acknowledges David R. Blumberg, chairman of the Baltimore Republican Central Committee. In 1988 and 1992, the national party asked local Republicans not to actively recruit a candidate for the 7th District. Those were presidential election years, and the national party did not want the higher Democratic turnout that a contested race might bring.

Now, however, there is a realization that it is important to oppose the Democratic candidate, even if prospects for election are dim, Mr. Blumberg said.

"I don't want to give the impression that we're going to be measuring for drapes in the 7th District office. But this is our best chance to do better, because Mfume isn't there and the landscape's changing a little bit," Mr. Blumberg said. He pointed out that Republican registration in some areas of the Baltimore County portion of the district, such as Catonsville, is increasing.

Besides, he said, "It takes somebody to beat somebody, and you can't beat somebody with nobody."

The candidates are waging low-key campaigns. You won't see their advertisements on television, and they are not raising large amounts of money. And all are runing their campaigns out of their homes.

Mr. Gumbs, who has no campaign literature or signs and relies on candidate forums to get the word out, is typical. "Because of a lack of money, I'm basically waiting for the primary to see what happens," he said.

One of the better-known and more established candidates is Mr. Clark, who is serving his third term as vice chairman of the state Republican Party and is also on the Republican Central Committee in Baltimore. He has run for office four times before, including a 1980 campaign against Parren J. Mitchell, who then held the 7th District seat, and a race last year against Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

It was the campaign against Mr. Schmoke that has given him public recognition, Mr. Clark said.

"I think it gave me a leg up in visibility," he said. "That could help some. Some of the organization that was with me during the mayoral campaign was instantly available to me when I decided to run."

Although Mr. Clark joined the Republican Party 20 years ago because he felt it fit better with his belief in a strong work ethic and his resentment of government intrusion in people's lives, he might be considered a member of the party's more moderate wing. During a debate before the mayoral election, he said he was not opposed to affirmative action, although not in favor of quotas.

"I think being too much of a conservative sometimes can hurt you," he said.

Still, he supports the efforts of the Republican Party to reduce the size and scope of government. "I'm like everybody else. I'm a hard-working American, and I think the tax system is overburdening on us," he said.

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