Officials rolling out red carpet for Mfume

This Just In . . .

April 12, 1999|By Dan Rodricks

That's some nice package they're putting together to entice the "reluctant" Kweisi Mfume into declaring his candidacy for mayor. The General Assembly loosened up the city residency requirements so the NAACP president, who had been living the last few years in Baltimore County, could run for mayor. (Mfume bought a condominium in the city last month.) The governor will probably sign the bill tomorrow.

As a further enticement, some members of the City Council want to increase the mayor's salary from $90,000 to $150,000. And the other day, the present mayor of Baltimore said it would be OK if Mfume continued to give a couple of speeches a week -- at $15,000 a pop -- even after he takes office. (Yeah, and maybe he should only have to work Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.)

Is this getting to be a bit much?

Are we going to buy the guy a new Lincoln Navigator, too?

Don't get me wrong: As a city resident, I think Mfume would be a good mayor; he was a good city councilman, a solid congressman and, from what we see, he's been an effective NAACP president. He speaks from the heart and inspires with words. He's a strongly principled guy, driven to public service. He's a bridge-builder, too. The prospect of him moving into Sleepy Hollow -- City Hall in the 1990s -- perks up a lot of Baltimoreans who've seen nothing but ho-hum from Holliday Street for a decade.

There's a glamorous, celebrity aspect to Mfume, partly because of his high-profile position with the NAACP and, before that, the Congressional Black Caucus. He gives a great speech. Whenever he shows up somewhere, there's always a buzz. William Donald Schaefer, Little Willie Adams, Otis Warren, Peter Angelos, Pete Rawlings and all the others trying to draft him into running are a little lovesick, I think.

But that's OK. It's understandable.

Mfume is a Big Picture guy. He'd bring sorely needed energy and vision to city government.

But here's the thing: I can't see him getting [See Rodricks, 2b] too deep into the daily details of the job. I can't see him driving around the city on weekends with a clipboard, taking notes on trash and potholes. And I don't see Mfume registering perfect attendance at Board of Estimates hearings, giving his undivided attention to paving contracts -- especially when he could be making a speech somewhere. A man who wears suits as nice as Mfume's isn't going to be content talkin' shop with George Balog all day. You get my drift?

So maybe the Draft Kweisi Brigade should sweeten the pot. Let Schaefer handle the pothole-and-trash inspections. Let Peter Angelos chair Board of Estimates hearings.

Talk it up, fellas, and you might talk him into it.

On the campaign trail

Meanwhile, the Carl Stokes campaign trudges on. He's the most impressive candidate among those who've declared themselves in the mayor's race, if only because he's willing to express outrage at aspects of city life that have been in steady decline during the Schmoke years. Stokes says he can't accept his hometown in free fall -- losing middle-class population year after year, unable to reverse the decline of schools or stem the rate of violent crime. Every Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., he plans to pick a different location for an outrage speech. (The strategy got off to a rocky start last week. Stokes went to the city morgue to issue a three-point plan for stemming Baltimore's 300-or-more-a-year homicide rate -- just as the Police Department reported a 25 percent decline in killings in the first quarter of 1999.) The campaign has another fund-raiser coming up. There are plans to start some radio commercials this week.

Buying into corporate crowd

I'm hardly the first to note the change in the atmosphere at Orioles games. Skyboxes, the corporate crowd with their season tickets, the Orioles' appeal to the Washington yuppie market -- all that came with Camden Yards and led to a distinct change in the social fabric of an O's game. "They don't have fans anymore," a friend said a few years ago. "They have clients." An average ticket is $19.82, nearly $5 more than the Major League average.

But, wait. Who's to say that's a bad thing?

An Orioles official looking at the numbers might say: "Blessed are the wine-and-cheese eaters."

In "Home of the Game," Thom Loverro's new book about the impact of Camden Yards, the Orioles chief operating officer, Joe Foss, a former Washington banker, gives an impassioned defense of Major League Baseball's evolution into an upper-class sport: "The cynics of this game talk about the real fans and who is here and who isn't here, this whole issue of the wine-and-cheese crowd and the cell phones and all that. I find that whole thing fairly amusing on one hand and disgusting on the other. First of all, by implication, they are saying people who drink wine and [eat] cheese, the sophisticates as it were, the people who presumably might have more money, can't enjoy baseball. I think that is preposterous." Now there's a man who knows what side of the bread his brie is on.

Standing out in the crowd

Richard Hoffberger, on his father, former Orioles owner Jerry Hoffberger, who died Friday:

"We rarely sat in the owner's box [at Memorial Stadium]. We'd sit down in seats near the dugout for the first inning, then he'd get up and walk through the crowd -- sometimes he didn't come back till the eighth inning -- and he'd talk to people, the fans. He'd thank them for coming to the games. It seemed like he knew everyone in the ballpark."

Pub Date: 04/12/99

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