Mitchell family criticizes Bell ad

Ex-congressman backs councilman for mayor

May 14, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The use of legendary Baltimore politician Parren J. Mitchell's voice in a political ad has angered his family, who call the campaign spot by City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III "highly suspect."

"We hit the roof when we heard it," said City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. of West Baltimore.

Bell, who hopes to succeed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in December, released the radio ad Wednesday.

Mitchell, the state's first African-American congressman and a revered political figure, says in the radio ad: "I'm supporting Lawrence Bell for mayor. He lives in the city, he knows the budget, and he knows the agencies."

State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV joined his cousin in expressing concern about the ad because their 77-year-old uncle has been ailing. Mitchell has had several strokes and is living at the Keswick Multi Care Center.

In his room yesterday, Parren Mitchell declined to comment on the ad. "I don't want to talk," he said. "I'm not feeling well."

Keiffer Mitchell said he spoke with his uncle about the ad Wednesday, but that his uncle seemed unaware of the political implications of the endorsement.

"He wasn't too sure," Mitchell said. "I said, `I heard your ad,' and he said, `Yeah, I guess.' "

Bell campaign strategists stood by the ad yesterday, saying they were puzzled by the complaint because Parren Mitchell speaks for himself in the ad, which was recorded a few weeks ago.

Bell said Wednesday that Mitchell declined to read a script and wanted to give the endorsement in his words. "He wanted to be on record supporting my candidacy for mayor," Bell said.

"His health is in and out, but he was willing to take the time to make the endorsement and put it on tape," said Julius Henson, Bell's campaign consultant. "It's a good clear endorsement."

The ad, which will continue running on WCAO-AM, WOLB-AM, and WWIN-AM, is considered a swipe at NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who is considering a mayoral run. Mfume -- Bell's second cousin -- credits Parren Mitchell with turning his life around.

Bell opposes a state law passed last month that changes the residency requirement for city mayoral candidates from a year to six months. He's trying to muster 10 council votes to overturn the law.

The law was viewed as tailored to Mfume, who bought an Inner Harbor condominium last month. Bell, who could not be reached to comment yesterday, has targeted the residency issue in his ads.

Keiffer Mitchell has signed on as a member of the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee encouraging the former West Baltimore councilman to make a mayoral bid. However, Clarence Mitchell IV opposed the residency change and has not endorsed Mfume.

The Mitchells released a joint statement expressing their concern. The ad was made "unknown to our entire family," it said. The cousins acknowledged an affinity to Bell, and added: "Our Uncle Parren is his own man and as one of the most respected elders in this country is quite capable of issuing his own statements."

Clarence Mitchell IV called the ad "strange" because Bell has not officially declared his candidacy. The Mitchells said the family would make endorsements after the candidate field has been established.

"It's just very suspicious that my uncle would endorse someone for mayor who is not running for mayor," Clarence Mitchell said. "Until we know what is happening, [the family] doesn't want to make any endorsements."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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