Blount not saying whether he'll run again

Democrat: Rumors abound over whether the state Senate's majority leader will seek a new term at age 80.

March 30, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Although he says he is not trying to break any records, eight-term state Sen. Clarence W. Blount is all but assured of going down in Maryland's history books as a state legend.

The 80-year-old Baltimore Democrat has served 31 years in the General Assembly, the longest of any African-American in the history of the legislature.

Now with this year's state races drawing near, rumors abound over whether the legislature's first black majority leader will seek another four years representing West Baltimore's 41st District. Some of the state's top Democratic leaders are actively lobbying him to run again.

"The state of Maryland needs him," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. "I think his wife wants him home. I've just asked her to continue to make the sacrifice."

Gov. Parris N. Glendening agrees that Blount still has much to offer the state, but he has told the senator that he has "earned the right to think about himself."

"He is an extraordinary majority leader for the Democratic Party," Glendening said. "He has also served his time."

Blount, a retired career educator, isn't revealing his plans. When asked about running again, he bows his head, gives a bashful kind of grin and offers more of a tease than any details about his future.

"I've been around ... a long time," he says, suggesting he might consider stepping down.

Blount said he does want to spend more time guiding young politicians: "I see a whole lot of bright lights. Part of my hope, and part of my interest and part of me is to see them come on the stage and be successful and shine."

Blount, who has worked with five governors, is widely respected by officials across Maryland, largely for his efforts to ensure the political and academic success of blacks and others across the state.

Critics, however, say respect has led state officials to gloss over the issue of his living in Baltimore County, outside the city district he represents.

Chairs major committee

As majority leader, the slim, bespectacled man who stands 6 feet 3 is one of just a handful of African-Americans who hold similar positions in state legislatures nationwide.

Blount was one of the first African-Americans appointed to chair a standing committee in Maryland's General Assembly and now - as head of Education, Health and Environmental Affairs - is one of four black committee chairmen.

Only one of the other three leads a major panel - Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

Both Blount and Rawlings have played critical roles in protecting such city interests as the 1997 schools partnership with the state and this year's redistricting process. Democratic leaders often call on them to help build consensus in the party and the legislature.

"Senator Blount brings extraordinary political leadership and balance to our deliberations in the General Assembly," said Rawlings, who at times has been at odds with the senator. "But there are talented individuals in his district who ... with time could achieve his level of influence in the Senate."

Some political observers say he might run for re-election this fall and soon afterward relinquish the seat to a "rising star" - Del. Lisa A. Gladden is mentioned frequently.

Others say he won't leave office until a serious problem - such as the severe back pain he suffered before the last election - prevents him from seeking re-election.

"I think the assumption ought to be that he's going to run," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "He loves politics. He thrives on it."

Election after election, delegates have prepared to ascend to Blount's seat, only to find themselves leaving the legislature while he remained in office, he said.

Blount - a husband and father of a grown son and two stepsons - attributes much of his success to his father, Charles J. Blount Sr., who instilled in him the belief that education was the way to "stand up and be a man and enter American life."

Born in rural South Creek, N.C., Clarence Blount moved to Baltimore at age 8. When he arrived, he didn't know how to read or count to 10. His late start delayed his finishing Douglass High School until he was 21 - a fact he hid from his peers at the time.

He entered Morgan State College in September 1941. He was drafted that October for World War II, seeing action in Italy as a member of the 92nd Infantry Division's all-black Buffalo Soldiers.

In 1946, Blount re-entered Morgan, graduating in 1950. He took a city teaching job and spent 31 years as a Baltimore educator, rising to become vice principal and principal of Dunbar High School.

Blount became a senator in 1971, when the still-Baltimore Colts won the Super Bowl. He had ambitions of becoming an international lawyer or a diplomat, but ulcers cut short his pursuit of a doctorate in international relations.

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