Backers still hope for `Mayor Mfume'

NAACP president tells officials privately he hasn't ruled out bid

January 21, 1999|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume may be saying publicly that he will not be a candidate for mayor of Baltimore, but he told several Democratic officials in Annapolis yesterday that he is still considering a run.

Although he stopped short of saying he plans to jump into the wide-open mayoral race, Mfume left the clear impression that he is leaning that way, according to sources who discussed it with him yesterday.

"I think he clearly has an open mind to it," said one prominent legislator, who asked not to be identified. "He's fascinated by the idea. By no means is he ruling it out."

Said another official who raised the issue with Mfume: "He didn't say he was not going to run. I got the feeling he's really thinking about it."

Mfume, who in his public statements has said that he will not be a candidate, could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Earlier, Mfume was in Annapolis to deliver a speech during the inauguration of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who was sworn in for a second four-year term.

Speaking after Glendening, Mfume delivered a stirring speech celebrating Maryland and calling for social change.

"Scab labor, unbridled poverty, second-class citizenship and violent crime chip away at that sense of community," Mfume said. "We celebrate our Maryland because of our diversity."

The politically tinged speech and Mfume's prominent role in the inauguration fueled speculation that he is nearing a run for mayor.

But Ray Feldmann, a spokesman for Glendening, downplayed any political meaning in the decision to invite Mfume, saying he was an appropriate speaker on a day when the governor was delivering a speech that focused in part on civil rights.

`A great tie-in'

"It was the governor's personal decision to ask Kweisi to speak because he thought thematically it would be a great tie-in to what he was talking about," Feldmann said. "There was no political message."

Several people have declared their candidacies to succeed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is not seeking a fourth four-year term in the November election.

Among them are former City Council member Carl Stokes, Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and three community activists. Baltimore City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III is also expected to run.

But key Democrats say Mfume, a dynamic speaker with a strong resume and wide name recognition, would instantly become the front-runner should he run.

Mfume served on the Baltimore City Council for eight years and in the House of Representatives from 1987 to 1995, representing a district that included West Baltimore and part of Baltimore County.

He unexpectedly left Congress in late 1995 to become president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation's best-known civil rights organization.

Mfume suggested to officials in the State House yesterday that he plans to return to Annapolis to discuss his political plans with ranking state lawmakers.

A key hurdle for Mfume is the fact that he has lived outside Baltimore -- in Catonsville -- for several years. Under current law, a mayoral candidate must reside in the city for at least one year before the election.

But several Baltimore lawmakers are prepared to push for legislation in the General Assembly that would change the city's residency requirements for mayoral candidates.

The bill being prepared would change the law to require only a six-month residency. Mfume is reportedly intending to buy property in Baltimore. The proposal has the support of House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., legislators said.

`Wouldn't let us do this'

Key lawmakers said yesterday that Mfume has done nothing to cool the legislative effort to rewrite the residency requirements -- another sign, they said, that he may be inclined to run this fall.

"He wouldn't let us do this for nothing," said one ranking senator.

If Mfume decides to run, he would have to leave his position at the NAACP. The organization has had a policy since 1994 that requires its officers to step down if they seek political office. The policy is designed to prevent conflicts of interest, NAACP officials have said.

Two members of the NAACP's Baltimore chapter were forced last summer to leave their posts while running for the Maryland House of Delegates, including the chapter's president, Rodney A. Orange, a candidate in West Baltimore's 44th District.

After Orange was defeated in the September primary, the NAACP allowed him to return to his position. Orange lost the post in a local NAACP election in November.

Sun staff writer Ivan Penn contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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