Schaefer cautions on Mfume bid

Incentives could hurt NAACP president's mayoral run, he says

`I don't think it's right'

New draft movement asks ex-congressman to declare candidacy

April 18, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Former Gov. and longtime Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer believes supporters of Kweisi Mfume should be cautious about offering incentives to the NAACP president, warning that the perks could taint his mayoral candidacy before it begins.

Schaefer, who was elected state comptroller in November, said in an interview that he particularly objects to suggestions that, if elected mayor, Mfume could supplement his city salary by sitting on corporate boards or increasing the number of paid speeches he gives.

Schaefer said salary should be the only incentive for Baltimore's mayor. Enticements by business leaders or other groups could create the perception that a mayor is beholden, Schaefer said.

"That's the worst thing that they could do, and it's the worst thing that [Mfume] could do," said Schaefer, the city's longest-serving mayor. "He would come in under a shadow. They better be careful."

Mfume, a former West Baltimore city councilman and U.S. representative, has repeatedly said he is not interested in becoming mayor and is focusing on leading the NAACP.

But Friday, an advertisement with more than 200 signatures of state and local politicians and community leaders appeared in the Afro-American newspaper urging Mfume to run.

Mfume makes $220,000 a year as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the mayor's salary is $95,000.

Tuesday, Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed a bill reducing the residency requirement for Baltimore mayoral candidates from one year to six months. The measure allows Mfume, who bought an Inner Harbor condominium last month, to run. Mfume supporters are urging the City Council to raise the mayor's salary to as much as $150,000 as a further enticement.

Schaefer supports Mfume's mayoral bid and has worked to recruit him, but he said he is concerned about outside incentives. "I never accepted funds outside and never took a job outside," Schaefer said. "I don't think it's right."

The unusual nature of the effort to draft Mfume has raised similar concerns as the first Baltimore mayoral race without an incumbent in 28 years gets under way.

Herb C. Smith, a political science professor at Western Maryland College, said the city election process seems backward. The candidate should seek the office, not vice versa, Smith said.

"There are some disquieting aspects of the draft Mfume campaign that could be handled better," he said.

Many of the concerns have been prompted by hypothetical questions. Asked last week what a mayor could do to enhance his salary, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke noted that Baltimore mayors can be appointed to corporate boards that do not do business with the city.

Schmoke also noted that mayors are permitted to take speaking fees. Schmoke contributes his fees to charities. Mfume receives $15,000 per speech as one of the nation's best-known civil rights leaders.

Schmoke said he is not troubled by speaking fees as long as they do not hamper a mayor's service to the city. "It gets a little trickier being a member of a board," Schmoke said.

Former City Council President and Mayor Clarence Du Burns said he has been in politics long enough to know that perception is critical, and he commended Schaefer for issuing the warning.

"I like [Mfume] for the things that he has done," said Burns, who also supports Mfume. "But if you're going into public life, you have to go in clean. You can't go into things having people think that you're using them."

Mfume is aware of the detrimental impact the discussion of the incentives could have. Last week, when an article reported that Schaefer had helped Mfume obtain an Inner Harbor condominium, Mfume asked that the matter be clarified. (Schaefer's link to the deal was his friend and ally, Essex lawyer Robert J. Romadka, who sold the condo to Mfume.)

Schaefer expressed confidence that Mfume, a seasoned politician, will not be enticed by incentives that could be seen as inappropriate. "That kind of thing will come back to hurt him," Schaefer said. "And he's smarter than that."

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