Effort to boost Mfume moves into high gear

Legislators work to allow mayoral run by NAACP president

April 10, 1999|By Ivan Penn and C. Fraser Smith | Ivan Penn and C. Fraser Smith,SUN STAFF

As the Maryland General Assembly draws to a close Monday, the effort to draft NAACP President Kweisi Mfume for Baltimore's mayoral race is moving into high gear.

A group of city and state politicians, as well as influential business leaders, is preparing to launch fund-raising drives, ad campaigns and community rallies to draft Mfume, once Gov. Parris N. Glendening signs the bill that makes it legally possible for the civil rights leader to join the race.

Mfume backers are also orchestrating a substantial pay increase for the mayor and such income supplements as fees for sitting on corporate boards of directors and for giving speeches -- all to entice the former City Council member and member of Congress to run.

"It really has been no secret that people have wanted to draft a candidate like Mfume," said Cheryl Benton, the former campaign manager for Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is helping to organize the Mfume draft. "I think it all will become a much more accelerated process" with the end of the General Assembly session.

State lawmakers have been encouraging Mfume to run ever since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced in December that he would not seek a fourth term in office. But Mfume's candidacy was hampered because he lives in Baltimore County and his pay as NAACP president is so lucrative.

Lawmakers, however, cleared the way this week for the civil rights leader to run by passing a bill that reduced the city's residency requirement for mayor from a year to six months, in time for him to move and join the race. The bill now awaits Glendening's signature, which he has promised.

"We think the governor will sign the residency bill Tuesday, and after that it will be appropriate to have a visible effort to get him in the race," said Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat.

The draft effort is attracting a wide spectrum of political supporters.

On board are state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor; Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos; real estate magnate Otis Warren; developer William L. "Little Willie" Adams; Glenard S. Middleton, president of the city chapter of the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees; and several key lawmakers.

"He is running," a confident Schaefer said yesterday.

Schaefer ally Sally Michel, who most recently organized a citywide summer reading program for elementary pupils, will likely be the group's treasurer, and Georgine Everton, an East Baltimore activist, is being sought to chair the draft committee.

The group has been meeting once a week recently to develop a strategy for the Mfume candidacy.

"I hope all of this will involve community leaders talking about what they want in our next mayor and what the issues are likely to be," said Del. Maggie L. McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat.

As of late yesterday, however, Mfume, who was away on a retreat in Boston, was maintaining his public position that he is not a candidate.

"I don't think Mr. Mfume has moved any closer to the mayor's race," said NAACP spokesman John White.

But Mfume sent strong signals that he is interested in the mayor's race when he went to settlement on a Harbor Court condominium in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The $300,000, two-bedroom condo is expected to be his primary residence.

With the condo purchase, the possibility of an Mfume candidacy is the talk of the town.

Some question why Mfume would want to leave his high-paying job at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mfume makes $220,000 a year, in addition to his travel perks and speaking fees.

Among African-Americans, Mfume ranks among the highest-paid speakers on civil rights and race relations. He earns $15,000 a speech.

At his weekly news conference Thursday, Schmoke described how Mfume could improve his compensation as mayor. Schmoke said he could sit on the boards of companies that do not have business with the city and could continue to receive speaking fees.

"Just as a matter of policy, I gave mine away," said Schmoke, who donates his to the Baltimore Literacy Council and to the Calvin Hill Day Care Center, which he established. But he said Mfume could legally accept speaking fees, giving as many as two talks a week.

"I think people would tolerate that as long as it is not excessive," Schmoke said.

The City Council is considering an increase in the mayor's salary from $95,000 a year to $150,000. City legislation has not yet been introduced.

Benton, who was also campaign manager for former Council President Mary Pat Clarke's bid for mayor in 1995, insists that the effort is not just to draw Mfume into the race but to find a candidate who can help the city resolve its troubles.

"This has to be about the needs of the city, the needs of the families, the needs of children, the needs of neighborhoods, the needs of businesses," Benton said. "It is about the future of the city."

Benton said there was a similar draft effort in Washington. Early on, a group of city leaders came together in search of someone to run the city after former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. left office, and they put their support behind Anthony A. Williams.

When Baltimore and Maryland leaders looked over the political landscape for someone to lead the city, they looked toward Mfume.

"I think he has a rich history of commitment to the people and to the city," Benton said. "I think the bar is set high for him, and that's good."

Sun staff writers Gerard Shields and Erin Texeira contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/10/99

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