Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

September 07, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

He stood on a West Baltimore corner, a hulking man looming over a black podium on a corner that like so many in this city was the site of a recent homicide.

There was no raucous applause, no flurry of "Mitchell for Mayor" signs, no clutch of supporters circling City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. as he hammered away at crime, the cornerstone of his campaign.

"Enough is enough," the mayoral contender boomed into the microphone.

The television cameras zoomed in on Mitchell. Alone.

By all accounts, Mitchell, a three-term councilman, has run an aggressive campaign in his bid to become the city's 49th mayor. But it is one he has had to wage largely alone, without the resources and support of either the political powers-that-be or his longtime council colleagues.

The 39-year-old said he has been disappointed in the process, even admitting he thought of dropping out at one point. To rally support, Mitchell has tried to capitalize on his underdog status, portraying himself as the candidate for reform, who as mayor would break the status quo, do away with business as usual.

Easygoing and affable, Mitchell - a man who used to serve fresh-squeezed orange juice at the city's weekend Farmers' Market and has recently taken to wearing Timberland boots as a symbol of all the "you-know-what" his campaign has slogged through - says he's used to being the underdog.

"Growing up I was always counted out," said Mitchell, who lives in Bolton Hill with his wife of seven years, Nicole, and their two young children. "When it came to applying for colleges, when it came to participating in sports. I was diagnosed as dyslexic back when it was an unknown and some people thought that I shouldn't be in a regular school."

Here again, Mitchell believes he has been counted out. But despite all the setbacks - being forced to take a leave from his job at Harbor Bank, losing his committee chairmanship on the council, and a campaign spending controversy involving his father - Mitchell insists he's in this to win.

"There was a point where I just thought, `Why am I doing this?' Then I thought about all the people that have come on board on my campaign and all the people that have reached out to say we're in your corner. This campaign has taught me about loyalty and friendship and the whole political process."

Running second

In polls and fundraising, Mitchell has run second to Mayor Sheila Dixon. The two are among a field of seven running in Tuesday's Democratic primary.

The third generation of a well-known Baltimore political family, Mitchell is regarded by those who know him as fun-loving and easy to get along with, independent and attuned to the needs of his constituents.

As the councilman of the 11th District, he has represented some of the city's most affluent communities - the business district downtown, the Inner Harbor, Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill - as well as more challenged West Baltimore neighborhoods.

He has a strong relationship with the business community and at times has come down on its side. He was criticized by preservation groups for pushing through a bill that allowed Mercy Medical Center to demolish several historic rowhouses.

Mitchell's record does not include getting many blockbuster bills approved, though the council rarely approves such legislation. Much of his work has been done through negotiations and amendments.

His most substantive accomplishment was shepherding through the council the $42 million bailout of the city school system in 2004, a plan that prevented the city from being dependent on a state loan.

"When then-Mayor [Martin] O'Malley was having trouble getting the help he needed from the state, Keiffer suggested that we go it alone and use our rainy day fund, which was a risky suggestion," said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who has not endorsed anyone in the mayor's race.

"I thought that was a very significant suggestion and that it worked out very well. He's a very creative thinker and has come up with a lot of good ideas for saving the taxpayers money and keeping the city whole."

Baltimore native

Mitchell was born and raised in Baltimore, living in the Northeast first and then Guilford, the son of Nannette and Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell Sr., a social worker and physician active in the community.

He was exposed to politics from the beginning. Mitchell's grandfather is Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., a leading figure in the civil rights movement and a lobbyist for the NAACP. Mitchell's great-uncle was the late Parren J. Mitchell, the first African-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland.

Mitchell attended public schools until his dyslexia was diagnosed and his parents decided it was better to send him to Boys' Latin, a private school.

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