Stokes picks up Mfume backer

Benton led group that tried to draft NAACP president

June 29, 1999|By Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn | Gerard Shields and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore mayoral candidate Carl F. Stokes attempted to bolster his campaign yesterday by hiring the former manager of the committee that tried to draft NAACP President Kweisi Mfume into the race.

Cheryl Benton -- who also helped Washington Mayor Anthony A. Williams to victory last year -- joined the Stokes campaign yesterday as manager and spokeswoman. Benton is the second Mfume supporter to side with Stokes in a week. Last week, State Del. Maggie L. McIntosh of Northwest Baltimore endorsed the former East Baltimore councilman for mayor.

Benton organized and McIntosh served on the committee of 250 state, city, business and community leaders who tried to recruit the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People into the race. Mfume opted last month to remain with the nation's oldest civil rights group.

Benton, who also handled the unsuccessful 1995 mayoral bid of former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, announced that she was joining the Stokes campaign yesterday as the candidate was meeting with about 75 West Baltimore ministers.

"Things have not gone well in this city," Benton said. "We believe [Stokes] has the courage and the leadership."

The 10-candidate field solidified Friday when former Police Commissioner Bishop L. Robinson announced that he would not join the race to succeed departing Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Schmoke will step down in December after 12 years.

The Benton announcement came on the first day candidates began appearing together at community forums, the next phase of the race.

Candidates take questions

Three of the Democratic candidates, including Stokes, answered questions at noon at a session organized by the Baptist Ministers Conference for Baltimore and Vicinity, which represents 104 churches and about 100,000 congregation members.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and Register of Wills Mary W. Conaway also appeared at Enon Baptist Church, answering about 16 questions presented at the event, which was closed to the media.

The gathering was the first in a series of forums being organized across the city. Residents have complained that speculation over who is running has smothered discussion about solutions to Baltimore's woes.

Additional Democratic mayoral candidates on the Sept. 14 primary include City Councilman Martin O'Malley and neighborhood activists William Edward Roberts Sr., Phillip A. Brown Jr. and A. Robert Kaufman. Republicans running are Little Italy's Roberto Marsili, Dorothy C. Jennings and Arthur W. Cuffie Jr.

The city faces a $153 million projected budget deficit over the next four years and has struggled to reduce 300 murders a year, an unemployment rate double the national average and 59,000 drug-addicted residents.

"We want some answers," said the Rev. Carl L. Washington, president of the Baptist ministers group, before yesterday's meeting. "We feel the community has not gotten the things that have been promised to us."

O'Malley did not attend the ministers' event. The invitations were sent out before O'Malley announced his mayoral bid last week, Washington said.

O'Malley worked the radio airwaves yesterday, spending his morning on the Larry Young show on WOLB-AM and his afternoon on the Marc Steiner show on WJHU-FM.

Mitchells back Bell

Bell picked up the endorsement of the Mitchell family. State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV and his cousin, West Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., held an afternoon news conference backing Bell.

Last month, the two criticized Bell for using their uncle, former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, for a radio ad endorsement. The Mitchells complained that their 77-year-old uncle was ailing after several strokes and family members were unaware of his participation.

Yesterday, however, the Mitchells said they were backing Bell because he opposed the state takeover of city schools and took a stance against police brutality.

"Every family has a squabble," Clarence Mitchell IV said of the radio ad dispute. "When it comes to the issues of the schools takeover, when it comes to issues of brutality in the Police Department Lawrence was the strongest."

The candidates will appear again tonight at a 7: 30 public forum at First English Lutheran Church at 39th and Charles streets in North Baltimore. The event is sponsored by the New Democratic Club.

Additional forums include the NAACP's July 26 and another sponsored by WOLB-AM radio on July 28.

Pub Date: 6/29/99

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