Mfume's `no' to mayor's race called a `maybe'

The Political Game

Baltimore: NAACP president said to be weighing several factors in making decision on whether to return to political office.

January 19, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

CITY COUNCIL President Lawrence A. Bell III might be the front-runner in this year's race for mayor of Baltimore, but national NAACP President Kweisi Mfume might challenge him for that honor.

A well-placed Democratic Party source says Mfume is definitely interested, notwithstanding the former 7th District congressman's repeated protestations to the contrary.

Thus, the General Assembly continues to consider a bill that would change Maryland law so that Mfume, a resident of Catonsville, could re-establish residency in the city and qualify as a candidate. Mfume has said he is buying property in Baltimore.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. and Appropriations Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings are behind the bill -- and remain so in face of Mfume's official assertions of noncandidacy.

Others say that former mayor William Donald Schaefer, now the state comptroller, has allowed his name to remain in play as a mayoral candidate -- only to encourage an Mfume candidacy. The theory: If Schaefer is running, African-American interests are more likely to seek a strong, consensus candidate, one who would be a pre-emptive favorite: to wit, Mfume.

The reluctant candidate is said to be weighing a number of factors as he heads for a final decision. He'd be giving up a prestigious post and a considerable portion of his handsome salary of about $200,000. The mayor of Baltimore makes $95,000.

Given the arduous nature of running a U.S. city in the 1990s -- or in the new millennium for that matter -- why would Mfume do such a thing? Because:

He cares about the city he represented in the City Council and in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He has pulled the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People out of debt, gotten it on the right track and would like to show he can do something similar in Baltimore.

He wants to return to politics and, if his plans include a run for the U.S. Senate, probably cannot make such a race until 2004, when Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's term ends; or 2006, when Paul S. Sarbanes completes the term he is likely to win in 2000.

Timing in these matters can be everything. Mfume might want to delay entry until the NAACP's board of directors gets accustomed to the possibility that he might leave.

Also, he wouldn't want to declare himself now if the residency bill can't be passed.

If he wants to run, moreover, he might wish to avoid being a candidate for as long as possible. Alone among the "mentioned" candidates (with the exception of Schaefer, who almost certainly won't run), he is probably the one who could raise the necessary money without difficulty and quickly.

House could face pressure to revamp its ethics system

The House of Delegates could face renewed pressure to restructure its self-regulating ethics system. Under the current system, legislators with an ethical question -- for example, a financial opportunity which could conflict with legislative responsibilities -- take their questions informally to a member of the ethics committee.

The theory: Get it sorted out quietly, unofficially before acting.

Del. Tony Fulton's decision to serve as broker in a real estate transaction involving two Annapolis lobbyists is the case in point. No one broke a law in this deal, it appears, but virtually no one in Annapolis believes it passed the so-called "smell test."

Fulton filed the legally required disclosures, but did not ask for an ethics committee clearance. He wasn't required to do so under the law.

The case might demonstrate that ethical behavior cannot always be guaranteed by meeting the letter of the law.

Switched identities is no laughing matter

Will the real Senator Mooney please stand up? Also, the real Delegate Bartlett?

These two Republican freshmen -- Sen. Alexander X. Mooney and Del. Joseph R. Bartlett -- had a bit of fun the other night at a Maryland Chamber of Commerce reception, switching their name tags.

Mooney was introduced as Bartlett and vice versa.

Some of those who had to go back and undo the introductions were not amused. Nor were various other members of the Western Maryland legislative delegation.

"We have some serious issues to deal with down here," one of them said. "We don't need that sort of thing."

"It was [a] joke, a practical joke," Mooney said.

On whom?

"Nobody. You've played jokes before, haven't you?"

How did the joke go over? "I have no further comment," he said.

Additional comment was volunteered later by Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, head of the Frederick County delegation.

"He's a young, enthusiastic, freshman senator," Ferguson said. "He's a fine addition to the delegation. In accord with his first campaign promise that he'd grow older, he's doing that. When you grow older, you grow wiser. That goes for [Bartlett], too. These are freshmen. The learning curve is steep."

Bartlett, son of Maryland 6th District Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, could not be reached for comment.

Pub Date: 1/19/99

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