House vote clears way for Mfume

New residency rule allows time to qualify for mayoral campaign

Draft committee at work

NAACP president bought Inner Harbor condo last month

April 06, 1999|By C. Fraser Smith and Ivan Penn | C. Fraser Smith and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The General Assembly opened the way last night for former congressman and current NAACP President Kweisi Mfume to run this year for mayor of Baltimore.

The House of Delegates gave final approval to a bill reducing Baltimore's one-year residency requirement for mayoral candidates to six months, allowing Mfume to move back to the city from Catonsville in time to qualify for the race.

"I think this bill gives us the opportunity to attract a candidate with a national reputation, who is well-connected at every level of government and the private sector," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat.

"The respect people have for him locally and throughout the state will serve the city very well," she said.

The measure passed the House on a 110-17 vote. The bill, which has passed the Senate, goes to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who has said he will sign it into law.

The City Council could reverse the General Assembly's action by passing an ordinance to restore the one-year requirement. City officials have said they do not expect that to happen.

Fueling speculation about his intentions, Mfume bought a two-bedroom, two-bathroom Inner Harbor condominium March 26 for $313,000, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc.

A commanding presence as Maryland's 7th District congressman, representing Baltimore, Mfume would likely become the immediate front-runner, driving some others out of the race, if he decides to run.

He has been one of the nation's foremost civil rights leaders for most of the past decade, and many credit him with saving the good name and financial fortunes of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Sources say members of an unofficial Draft Mfume committee have been working for several weeks on campaign-related issues, including selection of campaign committee members.

Mfume did not respond to messages seeking comment yesterday.

Though Mfume has said that he is not a candidate, he has given hope to those who are trying to draft him by attaching qualifiers to each of his denials.

Sponsors of the legislation say they would not have gone forward with the bill if Mfume had asked them to withdraw it.

At one point, Mfume said the bill should be withdrawn if it had been offered specifically for him. The sponsors quickly said they were trying to open the field for any potential candidate.

Some of these promoters have observed that Mfume would be foolish to declare his candidacy unless he were eligible to run. For weeks, though, political sources familiar with his thinking have said he will run if the opportunity arises.

His chief advocates have been Baltimore Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, head of the city's Senate delegation.

Both men have said they believe Mfume, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, would bring unmatched experience and national prestige to the mayor's office.

Though he is thought to make more than $220,000 a year in his current post, Mfume apparently has decided he would accept a lower salary for an opportunity to re-enter Maryland politics, hoping to run some day for the U.S. Senate.

An effort has started in Baltimore to increase the mayor's salary from $95,000 a year to as much as $150,000.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who decided not to seek a fourth four-year term, is paid less than two of his department heads, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III and Public Works Director George Balog, both of whom are paid $113,000.

The mayor has said he would support a move to increase the pay of his successor.

Officially or unofficially, the mayoral field now includes former City Councilman Carl Stokes, activist A. Robert Kaufman and City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, Mfume's cousin.

Though some regard him as the front-runner if Mfume stays out of the race, Bell has not officially declared his candidacy. His bumper stickers reportedly say "Bell For Baltimore," a suitably unspecific banner.

In Annapolis

Highlights in Annapolis today:

House of Delegates meets. 10 a.m. House chamber.

Senate meets. 10 a.m. Senate chamber.

Sun staff writer Thomas W. Waldron contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/06/99

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