City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III moved yesterday to overturn the residency law recently passed by state lawmakers that allows his cousin, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, to join Baltimore's mayoral race.
Bell, also a contender in this year's mayoral election, is co-sponsoring a bill introduced last night that would restore the residency requirement for mayoral candidates to a year before the November general election.
The action generated some heat at the council meeting.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening signed legislation two weeks ago that reduced the residency requirement for mayoral candidates from a year to six months so that Mfume, who until a month ago lived in Baltimore County, could run for mayor. The new state law has a loophole that allows the council to restore the one-year requirement.
The move last night to restore the one-year residency requirement occurred two weeks before Mfume is expected to meet in Miami with the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It is widely suspected that Mfume will inform the board at that time whether he will stay with the organization or leave to run for mayor.
Many at the NAACP have said they believe Mfume will run for mayor.
Mayoral candidates have to file their candidacies with the city election board by July 6.
A possible Mfume candidacy has stalled the mayoral race because candidates, campaign contributors and voters are waiting to see what the former councilman and congressman will do.
Bell's move last night could add pressure on Mfume to publicly state his intentions sooner. The presence of his popular, older cousin in the race could jeopardize Bell's hopes of replacing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who announced in December that he would not seek a fourth term.
Sixth District Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. introduced the residency bill and Bell joined as a co-sponsor. But it seemed clear that the council president was leading the effort to restore the one-year residency requirement.
Bell said he did not want to be the lead sponsor because he did not want it to appear as though he were taking action because of his desire to become mayor.
"I am the fall guy," Handy said. "I am not anti-Mfume. [The council measure] is a bill that seeks to clear up an error in the law that the governor signed."
Handy, Bell and 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran said they believe the new state law reduces the residency rule not only for mayoral candidates, but also for candidates for council president and city comptroller.
Curran plans to introduce a bill next week that would set the residency requirement for candidates for those latter offices to one year, while leaving the residency requirement for mayoral candidates at six months.
Bell and Handy's decision to push for a one-year mayoral residency requirement angered some council members, who said they were not told about the bill, as is sometimes done as a courtesy.
"My feeling is that there's a process that we normally follow, which wasn't followed," said 5th District Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, the daughter of state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a strong Mfume supporter. "I look at this as an example of [Bell's] leadership and the quality of his leadership."
Bell is likely to have an uphill battle trying to gain support for a one-year residency requirement. He needs at least 10 of the 19 council members to vote for the measure. A hearing and vote on the bill have not been scheduled. Eleven council members have joined the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee, a group of political, community and business leaders that is urging the civil rights leader to join the race.
Some council members are also angry that Bell and others did not fight to block the General Assembly bill that reduced the residency requirement to six months, which could have avoided the current debate.
"My thing right now is, why is the council all of a sudden interested?" said 4th District Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who was one of two council members who argued against the residency bill in Annapolis.
"Right now, I'm inclined to keep it" at six months, Mitchell said.
Pub Date: 4/27/99