Mfume voting to get review

State prosecutor will look at city votes after Catonsville move

Issue considered murky

7 elections workers accused in 1995 of violations in Baltimore

May 06, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said yesterday he will review whether NAACP President Kweisi Mfume violated state elections laws by voting in Baltimore while living in Baltimore County.

Reacting to news reports, Montanarelli agreed with state election administrators that the issue is murky because Mfume -- who is being promoted as a mayoral candidate in the city -- had owned city property and never switched his voter registration to his new address in the county.

Under state election laws, voting in an election district or precinct without having the "legal right" is considered "false voting," a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to $2,500 in fines or up to five years in prison.

Montanarelli charged seven city elections employees with voting in the city and living in the county in 1995 under a law specifically applied to elections employees, but said his review of Mfume, a former congressman and West Baltimore city councilman, should not be considered a criminal investigation.

Five of the election employees -- who owned no property in the city at the time they voted -- pleaded guilty. Each paid fines of $100 to $150 and received a year's probation. Another employee was found not guilty because he had access to a city home. Montanarelli dropped charges against the seventh worker.

City election officials confirmed yesterday that Mfume voted at a city precinct in 1996 and 1998. He bought a home in Catonsville in 1995.

Before moving to the county, Mfume listed his home at 3403 Hilton St. in West Baltimore on his city voter registration. Mfume sold that property in 1996. He held on to a second Hilton Street residence bequeathed to him by an aunt until October, he said.

Mfume said yesterday he never registered to vote in the county because he considered himself a city resident. State election officials said Mfume might have kept his "legal right" to vote in Baltimore by never switching voter registration to the county.

Montanarelli's look into whether Mfume violated election laws came as officials from the University System of Maryland honored the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader as the fourth recipient of the state's Frederick Douglass Award.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening established the award to recognize individuals who have displayed "extraordinary and active commitment to the ideals of freedom, equality, justice and opportunity exemplified in the life of Frederick Douglass."

At the Westminster Hall event yesterday, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend praised Mfume for helping to build bridges between people of different backgrounds and pushing for equality and justice in Maryland.

"His courage has inspired countless others," Townsend said. "When we prevail, it will be, in large part, thanks to the vision of Kweisi Mfume."

Frederick I. Douglass IV, the great-great-grandson of the prominent statesman, abolitionist and publisher for whom the award is named, added: "If Frederick Douglass was here today, he would join in celebrating the accomplishments of Kweisi Mfume."

More than 200 political, community and business leaders formed a Draft Mfume 2000 Committee last month encouraging him to run for mayor.

Mfume, 50, said yesterday he will meet with the NAACP board in Miami for three days, beginning May 13, before making an announcement about his candidacy when he returns to Baltimore.

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV said it seemed as if Mfume was going to announce his candidacy. "He got right at the door," the Baltimore Democrat said. "He's definitely, at this point, about to make an announcement."

Several reporters asked Mfume about his voting in the city when he lived in the county. He responded by saying: "You know I love this place. This is my home."

In a speech accepting the award, Mfume noted that reporters were in the audience and said they probably weren't there because of the ceremony. "I've made some mistakes in my life ," he said. "I'm not a perfect person, and this is not a perfect world. I'm a man, not a messiah."

John Budka had a hard time yesterday accepting Mfume's explanation.

Budka, 64, was one of the seven Baltimore elections workers charged with voting in the city while living in the county during the 1994 gubernatorial election. At the time, state law required elections employees to live in the jurisdiction where they worked. The law was changed in 1996.

Budka, who still works in the elections office, pleaded guilty, paid a $150 fine and received a year of probation. He said Mfume should face the same punishment.

"No one is above the law," said Budka, who lives in Dundalk. "I violated the law, and I knew I violated the law. The man should pay what we paid."

Two elections employees were cleared of the charges because they lived at city residences.

One of them, Christopher Jackson, was acquitted after he was able to show that he had two homes. Jackson, son of city elections Director Barbara E. Jackson, told the court he lived with a friend in the county, but often stayed with his mother in the city and listed his mother's address on his voter registration.

After Jackson's acquittal, Montanarelli dropped the charges against employee Samuel McAfee, who also lived at a city residence, the prosecutor said.

Terri Masciazewski, another elections office worker from Rosedale who pleaded guilty to false voting, said yesterday she believes that owning a home in the city should be considered in any review of the Mfume matter.

The Mfume matter reminded Budka yesterday that he has completed his probation. He wants the false voting charge expunged.

"I don't want to die with that on my record," he said.

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