Former official courted for run

State politicians suggest Robinson as mayoral candidate

June 04, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

After their unsuccessful attempt to lure NAACP President Kweisi Mfume into the Baltimore mayor's race, state politicians in Annapolis are trying to recruit a new candidate: former city Police Commissioner Bishop L. Robinson.

State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer has confirmed that he and his supporters are suggesting that the 72-year-old former state prisons chief consider a mayoral run.

Robinson, who was Baltimore police chief with Schaefer from 1984 to 1987, is expected to make a decision on the matter today. Several calls placed to his home in the past several days were not returned.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said during his weekly news conference yesterday that he had spoken with Robinson. From that conversation, Schmoke said, he does not think Robinson will run.

"A number of business people were talking about it," Schmoke said. "I thought the whole thing was a joke. He seems to be thrilled with his current job."

Robinson helps develop business for the New Jersey-based Lockheed MartinIMS.

Schaefer and other state politicians met with Robinson this week and cautioned the well-respected administrator to decide quickly because of the approach of the July 6 candidate filing deadline.

"I told him he can't pull `a Mfume.' He needs to decide right away," said Schaefer, Baltimore mayor from 1971 to 1987. "The field is open and there is a real opportunity."

Robin son, nicknamed "The Archbishop" for his dynamic, sermonlike speaking style, became the state secretary of public safety and correctional services when Schaefer became governor in 1987. Robinson retired in 1997.

Schaefer joined other state officials, including House Appropriations Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, this year in trying to draft Mfume into the race. Rawlings hired a campaign manager and attracted 250 state, city, business and neighborhood leaders to purchase newspaper ads asking Mfume to run.

The former U.S. representative and city councilman declined last week to run, opting to remain with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and creating the wide open mayoral race.

Cheryl A. Benton, former campaign manager for the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee, said yesterday that she had heard Robinson's name mentioned in conversations among past Mfume supporters, but that any effort to recruit him will not involve the former Mfume committee.

"I officially shut down the office," Benton said. "We don't have a group anymore."

The search for a new candidate indicates the state legislators and other office holders in Annapolis continue to be unimpressed with the mayoral field that includes City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former East Baltimore Councilman Carl F. Stokes. Rawlings has called the forming field "frightening."

Other declared Democratic candidates for the Sept. 14 primary include Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway and community activists William E. Roberts Sr., Phillip A. Brown Jr. and A. Robert Kaufman, founder of the City Wide Coalition. Republican candidates Arthur W. Cuffie Jr. and Roberto Marsili, both neighborhood activists, also have filed for the race.

Others who have expressed interest in running include state Sen. Joan Carter Conway and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy.

The effort to recruit Robinson is expected to cause a wider division between Bell and state politicians, who are critical to providing financial support to the city and its next mayor. The state contributes about 25 percent of the city's $1.8 billion annual budget.

"They really don't want Bell to get in there," Matthew Crenson, political science professor at the Johns Hopkins University, said of the Annapolis attempt to recruit Robinson.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Bell railed against the state legislators in Annapolis for their effort to play a role in the city race, calling them "kingmakers." Bell said a group of business leaders affiliated with the legislators offered him a political compromise concerning the mayor's race that he refused to accept.

Bell would not reveal the people or the compromise.

"These weren't even elected officials, these were people who controlled elected officials," Bell said. "I'd rather not be elected if I had to be on the strings of somebody else."

Shortly after Mfume's announcement that he was not running, several members of the Draft Mfume 2000 Committee indicated that they would most likely support Stokes. But the recruitment of Robinson indicates that Stokes, a former school board member, has yet to win over the Annapolis crowd.

"It just sounds like everyone is floundering at this point," Crenson said.

Stokes remained unruffled by news of a possible Robinson candidacy. Since announcing his candidacy on Dec. 8, Stokes has been campaigning solidly and consistently as the field fluctuates.

"It's OK with us one way or another," Stokes said. "We haven't taken into account who may or may not run, we have been focused on our campaign."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said the recruitment of Robinson, who he called a world class leader, should not be considered dissatisfaction with the forming mayoral field.

"I think that the future of Baltimore is so fundamentally important to the future of the entire state that we all look at it as a bellwether of how we're going to approach our future," Taylor said of the mayoral candidates.

Robinson's knowledge of Baltimore streets is a plus, Schaefer said. He grew up in the McCulloh Homes public housing complex on the west side where he watched the rising tide of violent crime and the police department's struggle to contain it.

"He has a lot of respect and a life of accomplishment," Rawlings said.

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