Mitchell IV forced to quit $92,000-a-year Md. housing job

Resignation comes hours before secretary's hearing

February 25, 2003|By Stephanie Desmon, Tim Craig and Ivan Penn | Stephanie Desmon, Tim Craig and Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Clarence M. Mitchell IV, the embattled former Baltimore senator who landed a high-paying job in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration after supporting the governor during his campaign, was forced yesterday to resign - hours before his supervisor was to face a Senate confirmation hearing.

Victor L. Hoskins, nominee for secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, went to Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele yesterday morning and said he was going to ask Mitchell to leave his $92,000-a-year post as director of the new Office of Urban Development. Hoskins later did so, an Ehrlich spokeswoman said.

The governor said the move was prompted by a conflict between Hoskins and Mitchell, who had been in the post for two weeks.

"Basically, different approaches," Ehrlich said. "Two different approaches but one secretary."

"He'll be fine," Ehrlich said of Mitchell.

Although Ehrlich denied yesterday that he had any part in Mitchell's departure, the new governor has faced criticism for selecting the former lawmaker, who was reprimanded last year by the General Assembly's ethics committee.

Senate Democrats had threatened to grill Hoskins on the appointment at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. When the senators sat down at the table yesterday, they did not know of the resignation of Mitchell, who hails from a family of longtime Democratic city politicians but has had a series of highly publicized financial troubles.

The first question for Hoskins - even before his opening remarks - was from Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore County Democrat, who asked him about the Mitchell appointment without naming the former senator by name.

"I understand patronage," she said. "You guys won and you want to give jobs to the people who helped you. I wonder if you could come up with a better idea for patronage. ... . That sounds like a nightmare."

Mitchell declined to comment yesterday. It was unclear whether he will receive any future post in the Ehrlich administration.

`Had an opportunity'

"I would not even want to venture a guess on that," said Larry Hogan, Ehrlich's appointments secretary. "But my thought is he had an opportunity, and I don't know if there are any opportunities left."

Hoskins had previously spoken highly of Mitchell, defending his selection for the post. Hoskins was ill at ease yesterday when reporters asked him about Mitchell's resignation.

Initially, Hoskins said Mitchell "resigned on his own accord." Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese M. Deleaver later explained that Mitchell was asked to resign due to "philosophical incompatibilities" with his new boss.

Mitchell had represented West Baltimore in the General Assembly since 1994 - first in the House of Delegates and then in the Senate - but lost a bitter primary contest in September to Verna L. Jones, then a first-term delegate. Jones, now a senator, campaigned as a fresh alternative to Mitchell, who had received a sharp rebuke from the ethics panel after it found that he had failed to disclose a $10,000 loan from three businessmen with issues before the legislature.

Bankruptcy filing

Last month, Mitchell filed for personal bankruptcy after being sued by several creditors - including the state for back taxes that he later paid. In an updated court filing last week, he listed assets of $2,300 and liabilities of $436,971.48.

Mitchell's resignation comes on the heels of an article in The Sun on Saturday that detailed his latest financial woes.

When Mitchell filed for bankruptcy he submitted sworn statements to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court that appear to be in conflict with information in other public records.

In particular, Mitchell asserted that he had not been party to any lawsuits within the last year and has not had his wages garnisheed.

Political price to pay

Donald F. Norris, a professor of policy sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that Ehrlich made a serious miscalculation by hiring Mitchell but that his administration deserves credit for forcing him out so quickly.

"I think the heartening news here is the governor is obviously listening and paying attention to what people are saying," Norris said.

But he thinks Ehrlich will continue to pay a political price. "He doesn't lose any votes, but his reputation got tarnished and his judgment got called into question," Norris said.

3 nominees advance

Hoskins' nomination sailed through the Executive Nominations Committee, as did that of James C. "Chip" DiPaula Jr. for secretary of the Department of Budget and Management. Del. Robert L. Flanagan, whom Ehrlich has chosen to be secretary of the Department of Transportation, faced much tougher questioning, though he, too, got the panel's endorsement.

The full Senate will take up the three nominations Friday.

Flanagan, a Howard County delegate for the past 16 years, was quizzed by the senators on his commitment to rural public transportation, his stance on a proposed purple line subway in Montgomery County and his support for mass transit in Baltimore.

But most of his questioning was on the $300 million that Ehrlich plans to take from the state's Transportation Trust Fund over the next two years to plug holes in Maryland's operating budget. Senators wanted to know how the administration planned to restore those dollars.

Flanagan told the committee that any money coming from slots would go to the General Fund and not to transportation. Ehrlich has not ruled out a gas tax but has not included one in his budget for the coming year.

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