A father's defense

August 08, 2007

Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr. didn't do his son, the mayoral candidate, a favor this week when he tried to explain his use of $40,000 in campaign funds.

The elder Mitchell's attempt Monday returned to the public spotlight an issue of questionable spending that his son, Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., had put to rest last week. Having two well-known but often polarizing Baltimore lawyers do the explaining - literally, the talking - for Dr. Mitchell turned a campaign misstep into an attack on the media.

The elder Mitchell, a respected West Baltimore internist, resigned as his son's campaign treasurer last week after aides to the younger Mitchell found the $40,000 in expenses to be questionable. They included $14,151 on a two-week stay at a Towson hotel where the councilman's mother was recovering from knee surgery, and $7,220 in checks made out to "cash."

To his credit, Councilman Mitchell went public with the problem in what would be a difficult situation for any father and son, let alone the son and grandson of the late civil rights leader Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. His father quit the campaign, which said Dr. Mitchell also repaid the money.

Lawyers Larry S. Gibson, the political strategist who helped put Kurt L. Schmoke and Parris N. Glendening in City Hall and the State House, respectively, and William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr. held a news conference Monday along with a mum Dr. Mitchell. They said they had called it to restore the physician's reputation. They argued he had done nothing illegal as his son's treasurer and attributed the questions to "a grave misunderstanding."

But their explanation that the hotel expense was proper because Dr. Mitchell had done "extensive" campaign business while staying there was too much of a stretch.

This is a distraction Councilman Mitchell doesn't need as he takes on Mayor Sheila Dixon, who, though not elected to the post, benefits from all the trappings of incumbency. Ms. Dixon has had her own ethical challenges related to two city contracts, and Mr. Mitchell, in a swipe at her, has pledged to reform the city's contract process to prevent people from gaming the system.

Voters may find themselves trying to differentiate a son from his father when they should be focused on what Councilman Mitchell has to offer Baltimore as mayor, as he attempts to put this sad, sorry mess behind him.

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