Unceremonious boot

January 31, 2007

Whoever raised concerns with Harbor Bank over the mayoral candidacy of its employee, Baltimore Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., didn't do the city or Mayor Sheila Dixon any favors. The complaints led this week to his being placed on an unpaid leave of absence in an action that smacks of political intimidation.

Harbor Bank President Joseph Haskins Jr. isn't saying who complained, just that he decided to rethink keeping Mr. Mitchell on the payroll as a business development officer after receiving "too many calls" that questioned Mr. Mitchell's mayoral ambitions and his work at the bank. Ms. Dixon has denied that she or anyone on her staff had anything to do with the bank's decision to sideline Mr. Mitchell. But in the absence of any persuasive evidence of an ethical conflict, the perception is that powerful allies of Ms. Dixon (who has her campaign funds at the bank, as does Mr. Mitchell) used their influence to make life difficult for the councilman.

The bank hired Mr. Mitchell knowing he was an elected official, and another elected official, state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, is a member of its board of directors. What's more, Mr. Mitchell, who had planned to take a leave of absence from the bank in June to campaign full time, says he discussed his plans with Mr. Haskins before he publicly announced his candidacy two weeks ago.

Mr. Haskins' decision is particularly unfortunate because it sends a chilling message to professionals - especially young professionals - that running for public office might well compromise their ability to support themselves and their families. That's the last message this city should be sending.

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