Jones says she will challenge Mitchell

City delegate to file for state Senate seat

July 08, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Del. Verna L. Jones said last night she will challenge Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV for the 44th District Senate seat, creating what is expected to be one of the toughest political fights in Baltimore this summer.

Jones plans to file her candidacy papers this morning and then hold a 1 p.m. news conference at Martha's Place, a women's recovery and treatment center on Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. She said she decided to run for Senate because she believes the 44th District needs a new leader.

"The community deserves better," Jones said. "Based on past performance, it's time for a change."

Tonight is the deadline for candidates to file to run for General Assembly in the fall election.

Jones, 46, is serving her first term as a delegate. She served on the House Appropriations Committee.

Mitchell, a one-term senator who also served in the House of Delegates, received a harsh public reprimand in the spring by the Assembly's ethics committee for soliciting and accepting a $10,000 loan from three Baltimore businessmen who have issues before the state legislature - a violation of state ethics law.

The state ethics commission is investigating Mitchell in relation to that loan.

Democratic Party leaders also have criticized Mitchell for endorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. over Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the leading Democratic candidate.

Mitchell, a member of a prominent civil rights family, has accused Democrats of taking African-American voters for granted in politics, business and other issues.

Mitchell is the grandson of renowned civil rights activist Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. and the son of another former state senator, Clarence M. Mitchell III.

His great-uncle is Parren J. Mitchell, who was Maryland's first African-American congressman.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. said in a recent interview that Mitchell had problems with loyalty that could be detrimental to him politically.

Although Townsend is not endorsing any legislative candidates in the Democratic primary, a spokesman said last night that Mitchell might have alienated himself from the party.

"The incumbent senator is backing a Republican," said spokesman Michael Morrill. "We're going to offer any help we can to someone who is a real Democrat."

Mitchell did not return a phone call last night seeking comment about the decision by Jones to challenge him in the primary.

The 44th District went through significant revisions last month when the Maryland Court of Appeals rejected Gov. Parris N. Glendening's legislative redistricting plan and drew its own map.

Glendening had placed Mitchell, who is black, in a district with Sen. George W. Della Jr. that was 53 percent black but had a historically poor turnout by African-American voters.

Now Mitchell is the lone incumbent senator in a revised 44th District that is 75 percent black. Jones has been elected in the district as a delegate.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he is sorry to lose her from his committee but said that Mitchell has "embarrassed the 44th District ... and embraced Bob Ehrlich."

"If she gets her message out, she's going to win," Rawlings predicted last night.

Sun staff writer Johnathon E. Briggs contributed to this article.

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