Mfume's time is now

May 05, 1999|By Barry Rascovar

BEFORE the month is over, Kweisi Mfume may end the suspense and tell us what most savvy politicians long ago surmised: He's running for mayor of Baltimore.

The NAACP president can't delay his announcement much longer. He owes it to the civil rights group he has served so ably. He also owes it to those who have gone out on a political limb to make his run for mayor possible.

It's hard to imagine how he could ignore the support from a City Council majority, civic and business leaders and most city legislators. You don't let longtime friends and allies hire a seasoned campaign manager unless you intend to run for office.

Nor would he further his eventual goal of becoming a U.S. senator by ducking a political race.

Mr. Mfume is too seasoned a politician to do that. He has been engaged in an intricate series of maneuvers to delay an announcement until everything is in place. Now it is.

State lawmakers and the governor changed the residency requirement for city candidates from one year to six months, allowing Mr. Mfume to run.

He bought a condo overlooking the harbor in time to regain his voting eligibility in the city this year. He has held onto his lucrative NAACP job about as long as he responsibly can.

The time is fast approaching when he must tell the NAACP board of his plans to run for mayor.

When he does, he becomes the heavy favorite. He will monopolize campaign donations. His list of supporters already reads like a "Who's Who in Baltimore." Mr. Mfume's cousin, Lawrence Bell, still has plenty of time to reconsider his options and file again for City Council president.

Some decry this rush to anoint Mr. Mfume as mayor. They want a truly contested election.

But maybe a coronation of sorts is what Baltimore needs at this pivotal juncture.

If Mr. Mfume can unite city and state politicians, mobilize the Baltimore region's business community and spark enthusiasm among civic and religious groups, a citywide resurrection becomes a realistic possibility.

It will take all of Mr. Mfume's considerable skills as a politician and a manager to turn this city around. It begins with a citizenry that rallies behind a leader with a clear, imaginative agenda.

The next mayor must find ways to trim government costs dramatically, bring down crime rates and improve its schools.

The next mayor must restore vitality to fading neighborhoods, making them appealing once again to middle-class families. This is critical.

City residents are looking for someone who can galvanize state and federal government, corporate and foundation leaders to help turn Baltimore around. Mr. Mfume fits the bill better than anyone else.

Baltimore doesn't need a divisive mayoral race. The city's situation is too dire. Mr. Mfume's biggest task would be to create a buy-in for his "Baltimore plan" among all stakeholders.

Mr. Mfume would bring key advantages to the mayor's office. He has served in the City Council and in Congress, where he learned how to play consensus politics. That could prove invaluable in persuading state lawmakers and the governor to support a revival plan for Baltimore.

It should also prove invaluable in developing strong regional ties with suburban politicians and business leaders, who could play key roles.

Mr. Mfume has to persuade them that a stronger Baltimore would boost the entire metropolitan area. Regionalism is not a dirty word.

As NAACP president, Mr. Mfume developed nationwide contacts with Fortune 500 executives and foundation presidents. Baltimore desperately needs help from folks like that, who have the money and the talent to do great things here.

He also proved he can help extricate an organization from a deep financial hole. He'd have to do that same kind of downsizing and tight budgeting at City Hall.

Baltimore needs someone who can sell the city to doubters, who can create a vision of Baltimore's future that people -- black and white -- believe in and embrace.

What other politicians see in Mr. Mfume is a man who has ably prepared himself for this undertaking. Now is the perfect time for him to declare his candidacy.

Barry Rascovar is a deputy editorial page editor.

Pub Date: 5/05/99

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.