Effort to draft Mfume gaining

More than 200 leaders sign newspaper ad pushing mayoral bid

`Group is very diverse'

April 17, 1999|By Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields | Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Kicking off an intensive drive to draft NAACP President Kweisi Mfume into Baltimore's mayoral race, more than 200 high-profile political, business and community leaders listed their names in an advertisement yesterday in support of his candidacy.

The full-page ad in the Afro-American newspaper included the Rev. Frank M. Reid III and the Rev. Harold A. Carter, prominent city ministers; H. Furlong Baldwin of Mercantile Bank; and Rebecca Hoffberger, director and founder of the American Visionary Art Museum.

Others are grass-roots community activists, intellectuals, ward leaders and lawyers.

"This group is very diverse, covering all parts of the city -- various ethnicities, various religions," said Nathaniel E. Jones Jr., a Baltimore lawyer and chairman of the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee. "The basic objective is to demonstrate support for Mr. Mfume to run for mayor and encourage him to do so."

The draft committee plans to hold a community meeting as a rallying cry April 24 at Mondawin Mall. The committee has set up an office and developed a Web site at www.draftmfume.org as part of its campaign.

Call up the Web site and a screen appears with the message, "Our children need him. Our families need him. Our businesses need him. Our communities need him." A subsequent screen shows his picture and the words, "Draft Kweisi Mfume for mayor because Baltimore needs him."

Mfume's public appearances in the city and throughout Maryland are becoming more frequent. He is scheduled to speak at his alma mater, Baltimore City Community College, on Tuesday. State Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the lead proponent of the Mfume movement, is an assistant to the college's president.

Some political observers say the draft effort is a smoke screen to make it easier for Mfume -- who has said publicly that he will not run -- to join the race. Others believe if Mfume wants to run, he will with or without a draft.

"I've never seen a person handcuffed and taken to the Board of Elections by a group of people saying, `Run for mayor,' " said former state Del. Kenneth L. Webster, a longtime city political strategist.

Webster, a member of the political team supporting state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, another possible mayoral candidate, added that while the list of supporters is "very impressive," it is too early to gauge how strong the support for the draft effort really is.

"You have a lot of key people who haven't gotten on board yet," he said. "It's just the first inning of a nine-inning game. Wait until the [July 6] filing deadline and see who the players are."

Added City Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr.: "If an individual cares about the city, you don't have to recruit him. If Mfume wants it, I'd be the first one to work on his committee. I've got to get a call from him that he's interested."

But members of the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee say that Mfume has not made up his mind, so they want to help persuade him to join the race.

The effort was initiated by Rawlings and backed by a majority of the city's General Assembly delegation and their political organizations. Several political allies of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, the former mayor and governor, also have joined the committee, although Schaefer's name was absent from the list. They include: Sally Michel, who is treasurer; Georgine Edgerton of West Baltimore; and Alan Rifkin, a lobbyist.

Many supporters of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke are on the list. Some include: Henry Baines, president of the Stop Shop and Save markets; Pete Welch of the liquor board; and Otis Warren, a local developer.

The effort to draft Mfume has been gaining momentum since Schmoke announced in December that he would not seek a fourth term.

The effort picked up steam this week after Gov. Parris N. Glendening made it legally possible for the civil rights leader to run by signing legislation that reduced the residency requirement for mayoral candidates from a year to six months. Mfume moved back to the city from Baltimore County three weeks ago, eight months before the November general election.

City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III -- who wants to be mayor -- vowed Wednesday to restore the one-year residency requirement with a council bill he plans to introduce at a coming meeting. Bell, Mfume's cousin, is one of a half-dozen other candidates interested in the mayor's job.

But Bell's effort appears all but dead, as a majority of council members signed the draft Mfume advertisement that ran in yesterday's Afro-American. Additional ads are expected to run in The Sun on Monday and Tuesday.

"I'm on the list because right now we don't have doodly squat in terms of someone running for mayor of this city," said Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a longtime nemesis of Bell's.

Most of the Mfume supporters who signed the committee's advertisement said the city has reached a critical stage, having lost a third of its population -- about 300,000 people -- over the last 30 years. Last year, the city had the fourth highest murder rate in the nation.

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