250 rally at mall to back Mfume

Effort continues to urge mayoral run

April 25, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Waving "Draft Mfume" signs and chanting "We want Mfume," a crowd of about 250 gathered yesterday at Mondawmin Mall in the first public rally in support of a mayoral candidacy by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

Some wondered whether Mfume would be there, but he did not make an appearance -- and organizers said they had not expected him to attend.

Many at the rally, including several city and state lawmakers, had given their support to the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee. They were among the more than 200 people whose names were listed as supporters in newspaper advertisements over the past week.

Yesterday's rally also brought out new voices urging him to run, including Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a West Baltimore Democrat who succeeded Mfume when he resigned from Congress to take the helm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I'm supportive of Kweisi," Cummings said. "Kweisi Mfume has a tremendous love for Baltimore. I do think he'll run. If I were a betting man, I would bet everything I have that he will run."

The rally was the culmination of 10 days of intensive campaigning by the draft movement to build support for an Mfume candidacy. In addition to the newspaper ads, the draft committee has set up a Web site, held a news conference at which three former mayors endorsed Mfume, and aired radio messages Friday in support of his running.

However, not everyone is on board the Mfume train.

While the festive rally that featured the Dunbar High School Jazz Band celebrated inside the mall, opponents of the draft Mfume movement placed leaflets on cars on the parking lot reading: "For Sale, Mayor Mfume. Backroom Dealmakers and Powerbrokers Inc. Annapolis Office: William Donald Schaefer, Director."

"SOLD" was stamped on top of Mfume's name on the leaflet.

Some spectators at the rally voiced skepticism about the Mfume draft effort and his ability to fix the city's problems.

"I have to see what he says" about his plans for the city, said Moses J. Newson of Baltimore.

Of the draft movement, Newson said, "I don't think too much of these kinds of things."

Mayoral hopeful A. Robert Kaufman used the event as an opportunity to push his candidacy, passing out handbills that attacked state lawmakers for changing the city's residency requirement from a year to six months so Mfume -- who until recently lived in Baltimore County -- could run.

"It is just plain wrong to change the rules of an election for the benefit of a single possible candidate," Kaufman wrote in the leaflet.

Kaufman said the draft committee ought to find out what solutions Mfume has to reduce the murder rate, solve the education crisis and lower the cost of government "before we blindly make him mayor."

Supporters of another candidate, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, campaigned in the downtown area yesterday with a motorcade that included honking horns and displays of "Bell for Baltimore" signs.

The mayoral contest is expected to continue to heat up as the July 6 filing deadline draws closer. The field also includes Carl Stokes, a former city councilman and school board member; community activists Robert L. Marsili, Phillip A. Brown Jr. and William E. Roberts; and Mary W. Conaway, city register of wills.

Bell, Mfume's cousin, said he intends to run for mayor but has not filed with the city election board.

Despite the clamor, Mfume has yet to announce whether he will seek the office or remain with the NAACP. It is expected that he will make a decision by the middle of next month, after he meets with members of the NAACP board of directors.

Draft committee members said they hope they can persuade him to join the race, and several said they believe the other candidates lack the national and international scope the city needs to catapult it back into prominence on the state level and nationwide.

"Those of us who love Baltimore are frightened at the prospect of not having a strong leader for the next millennium," said businessman Raymond V. Haysbert, former chairman of the Parks Sausage Co., a committee supporter who attended the rally. "I think we need Kweisi Mfume."

Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/25/99

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