Mfume still undecided on mayoral bid

NAACP meeting in Miami draws no announcement of intent to quit, enter race

May 16, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

MIAMI -- Frustrating many who had hoped to learn his plans, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume wrapped up a three-day board meeting here yesterday with scarcely a mention about becoming a candidate in Baltimore's mayoral race.

And residents hoping for a decision on whether Mfume intends to run for mayor will have to wait at least another week.

He said he was leaving today on an unexpected five-day trip to Ghana for an African-African American Summit with a White House contingent. The visit will delay his announcement on whether he will seek to become Baltimore's 47th mayor.

The former congressman and West Baltimore councilman said two weeks ago that he intended to decide on his political future after returning from the quarterly board meeting with NAACP leaders here. Now headed to Africa, he said the decision must wait.

"How do you say `No' to the White House?" Mfume said of the mayoral question. "I'm not being cute about this, I'm not playing games. This is not an easy decision -- this is my life."

In a related development, NAACP board Chairman Julian Bond forcefully denied that he would seek to become the next president of the nation's most noted civil rights organization, should Mfume step down.

"I have no intention to, no desire to be, no ambition to be president and CEO of the NAACP," Bond told reporters. "If you see me moving in that direction, strike me down. I'm raising my right hand."

After a private meeting with Mfume, Bond was asked if the two had discussed the Baltimore mayor's race. "No, not really," Bond said. "We're all curious and awaiting his decision."

Bond later said the 17-member executive committee of the board has not met privately with Mfume in recent weeks for lack of time, but plans to do so within two weeks. No date has been set.

Mfume said he had met with his family before coming to Miami, but had reached no decision. He again vowed to resolve the issue once back in Baltimore, but did not set a deadline. The final day to file for the race is July 6.

With the Sept. 14 Democratic primary that traditionally decides the city leader less than four months away, Mfume's delay puts city election campaigns on indefinite hold. If Mfume steps into the race, many mayoral hopefuls, including City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, are expected to abandon bids to succeed Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is not seeking re-election.

Meanwhile, in speeches, reports and committee meetings, staff and board members addressed the inner workings of the Baltimore-based National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Mfume and Bond presented reports to the board, detailing healthy finances and an active first quarter underscored by recent public outcry over police abuses nationally.

Many asked questions about upcoming projects and events, including the annual convention in New York in July, which will mark the organization's 90th birthday.

But no one asked in public whether the board should begin thinking about Mfume's successor.

"No one wants to talk about it because there's nothing to talk about -- no new information, just a lot of rumors," said a board member.

Friday, at a lunch meeting with Florida A&M University President Leonard Humphries, one NAACP board member publicly alluded to Mfume's impending decision.

"As you all know, every television and radio station from Maryland is here," Leon Russell, a Florida board member, said. "I don't know what they're expecting to hear but, at this point, I'd like to introduce Mr. Mfume."

Slightly flustered, Mfume took the podium stating: "Well, Mr. Russell, thank you for putting me on the spot. There is absolutely nothing to announce."

The room erupted in cheers and applause.

Before the meeting, Russell said the mayoral issue was "a distraction but not a major discussion."

Many, including Baltimore NAACP board member Tony Fugett, came to Miami expecting to leave with a clear sense of Mfume's intentions. "I don't know what's up," Fugett said. "But I'm interested to find out."

But Mfume, annoyed with persistent rumors about when and where he will make his decision, dashed those hopes. For months, many in Baltimore have pushed Mfume to enter the mayor's race.

Starting in December, Mfume publicly denied that he was interested in seeking the city's top office, saying he was committed to finishing the final two years of his five-year NAACP contract. Mfume, however, has alluded to his desire to return to politics. In two public speeches in recent weeks, Mfume teased about joining the mayoral race, talking about rising to the challenge of tackling city woes.

Though many NAACP board members said they would like the issue resolved, none seemed compelled to push Mfume.

"It's a Baltimore issue, not a national issue," Fugett said. "[Board members] don't think this is going to go anywhere."

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