Ex-Baltimore mayors line up behind Mfume

D'Alesandro, Burns and Schaefer urge NAACP chief to run

April 23, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Three former Baltimore mayors gathered in front of City Hall yesterday, pledging support for NAACP President Kweisi Mfume's run for mayor -- if only he would join the race.

The event was a historic moment in Baltimore politics as former Mayors Thomas D'Alesandro III, Clarence H. Du Burns and William Donald Schaefer, the state's comptroller and former governor, stood in front of a black and yellow sign reading, "Draft Mfume."

"Kweisi Mfume is a street scholar," D'Alesandro, wearing a blue and orange "Draft Mfume" button, told journalists. "He picked himself up by his own bootstraps to become a city councilman, to become a congressman, to become the chief executive of the NAACP.

"He has worked with the poor, and ... he moves in the halls of the mighty."

Burns promised he would help get voters to the polls. "This guy's got a good shot," Burns said. "I'm talking him up all over town."

Schaefer looked beyond the election, saying Mfume needs to think about the future of the city.

"I know he wants to run," Schaefer said, adding that if Mfume is elected, "he's got 90 days to start to produce. I honestly believe that Mr. Mfume is the one who can do the job. You can't have second-rate people running the city."

The endorsements came during a news conference organized by the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee, which has orchestrated a campaign to smooth Mfume's way into the race, if he decides to run. Mfume had said that he would not, but he recently said he would consider running for mayor because of the draft movement.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said during his weekly news conference yesterday that the civil rights leader is running out of time to declare his candidacy, as Baltimoreans become increasingly weary of the speculation about his interest in the mayor's job.

"A process like this can only go on for a certain period of time before it starts to have negative consequences for some of the people involved," Schmoke said. "I think, at this point, that it's probably in his interest and the city's interest for there to be some light at the end of the tunnel."

Mfume was away yesterday on a day off and could not be reached for comment.

Cheryl Benton, campaign manager for the draft committee, said Mfume needs time to decide whether he wants to leave the NAACP and join the mayor's race -- particularly since the filing deadline for mayor is July 6.

"I think we have to respect Mr. Mfume's decision-making process," Benton said. "I think we have to respect what he has to deal with and allow him the opportunity to make his decision."

But Benton and members of the draft committee are increasing pressure on Mfume to join the race.

The draft movement began with full-page advertisements in the Afro-American newspaper last week and in The Sun this week. Each listed the names of more than 200 Mfume supporters. The draft committee plans to hold a community meeting with an 11 a.m. rally tomorrow at Mondawmin Mall.

Draft organizers said yesterday's news conference with D'Alesandro, Burns and Schaefer shows a groundswell for the Mfume effort.

"The objective is to demonstrate the broad-based support," said Nathaniel E. Jones, chairman of the draft committee, adding that telephone calls have poured into the committee's office from people backing the effort. "This thing has gone farther than we had expected."

Pub Date: 4/23/99

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