Former city comptroller dies at 57

McLean, advocate for minority business, resigned in disgrace

September 21, 2001|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Jacqueline F. McLean, the city's first black and first woman comptroller who was an advocate for minority business owners, died Wednesday night at Union Memorial Hospital. She was 57 and lived on North Charles Street.

The cause of death was an infection, her daughter, Michelle McLean, said yesterday.

"Hers was one of the real tragic stories of our community," recalled former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday from his Washington law office.

In July 1994, Mrs. McLean stepped down from the city comptroller's office and admitted her role in a corruption scandal. She pleaded guilty to hiring - and paying - a phony consultant and a bogus research group. She also was convicted of official misconduct by steering a city lease to a Federal Hill building she co-owned. She was given a three-year suspended sentence.

"She was very talented and extremely articulate, an effective business person and politician. But along the way, some unfortunate choices were made that led to a tragic fall," Mr. Schmoke said.

"She was a bright woman, ambitious," said Former City Council member Carl Stokes. "She was headed on a track to become the mayor of Baltimore. As an outsider, she successfully ingratiated herself to her new community."

"She spent a lot of time crafting the legislation for the city's first minority business enterprise bill," recalled Anthony Ambridge, another former City Council colleague, who is now a consultant for Baltimore County on real estate and community issues. "It was her crowning legislative achievement."

Friends and political associates recalled that Mrs. McLean, who was co-owner of the Four Seas & Seven Winds travel agency with her then-husband, James McLean, was a novice when she arrived on the Baltimore political scene in 1983.

She did not vote or reside in the district she sought to represent. Not part of a political organization, she spent her own money to pay her campaign bills.

Establishing a presence

"Within two or three weeks, she bombarded the city. It was one of the first examples of a City Council race that employed widespread media advertising to establish a presence for a relative unknown," said Alfred Barry III, former city planner and a veteran political observer.

In 1983, she polled 8,424 votes in the 22-person primary field for a 2nd District council seat. Observers said she bought much of her airtime on the Monday Night Football game before the Tuesday election. Her workers also plastered thousands of orange-and-white handbills throughout the city. She also was a dogged door-to-door campaigner who won attention with strong personal charm.

"One new member cannot be classified by any traditions. Councilwoman Jacqueline McLean was elected to the 2nd District without backing from political clubs and without a background in politics itself," The Evening Sun reported Nov. 9, 1983, the day after the general election. "She was the only council candidate who bought radio and television time."

At the time of her election, she declared: "I'm going to be honest, outspoken, a fighter. That's me. ... I don't want to be one of those crazy mavericks."

After that victory, when Sun reporters inquired about the propriety of using a personal fortune to secure a council seat, she said, "He who has the gold makes the rules."

When she appeared at community meetings in impoverished neighborhoods and wore expensive jewelry, she told a colleague, "I'm not ashamed to be rich."

She soon won the favor of neighborhood associations and civic groups whose concerns she advocated. She battled city bureaucrats on parking issues and took on school administrators who were seen as inflexible. She also became the voice of minority business owners.

"The McLeans developed new friendships with prominent business people, both white and black. In a city of sharp racial demarcations, they mixed easily on both sides of the divide. Although they lived in virtually all-white neighborhoods, they remained close to black business executives and professionals," The Sun reported in 1994.

She was re-elected to the City Council in 1987, and in 1991 she won a citywide race for comptroller. Many said she would one day make a strong candidate for mayor.

`She knew how to lobby'

"She knew how to lobby," Mr. Schmoke recalled. "One day, after not getting her way at a Board of Estimates meeting, she came back to see me with a loaded picnic basket. We sat in my office, and she wound up carrying the day. She did it all with panache. ... There were some fun times."

Throughout her political career, Mrs. McLean refused to disclose precisely where she was born. Her daughter yesterday repeated her mother's statement that she was born on the East Coast.

Born Verna Jacqueline Fountain, she was the daughter of George Louis Fountain, an Army lieutenant colonel who lives in Baltimore. She moved with her family to military bases in Europe and Asia during the 1940s and 1950s.

Mrs. McLean had been a secretary to veteran State Senator Verda Welcome and later became a commissioner in the city's municipal court.

In 1968, she married James H. McLean. They opened their travel agency in 1975. The business prospered in the 1980s. The couple later divorced.

She married Arthur Murphy, a political consulant, in November 1999.

Funeral arrangements were not complete yesterday.

In addition to her husband, daughter and father, she is survived by another daughter, Elizabeth Torres of Baltimore; a step-daughter, Claye Murphy of Baltimore; a brother, George L. Fountain, of Gaithersburg; and two sisters, Wynonna Fountain Moore of Baltimore and Georgene Fountain of Gaithersburg.

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