AND SO Clarence Mitchell IV trudges through the snow to the unemploymentline. Annapolis insiders say he was shoved out of the $92,000-a-year job Gov.Robert Ehrlich handed him as a political payoff, though Housing SecretaryVictor Hoskins diplomatically says no, Mitchell quit. In either case, theformer state senator is now out of a job, out of favor, and out ofparticipation in all existing political parties.
The Democrats don't want him back. They suffered through his ethical conflicts of interest, his financial catastrophes and his political sabotage of last summer, when he turned his back on his party to support Ehrlich. And the Republicans, who knew all along that he was an embarrassment but imagined he could still help them win votes, now have their excuse to toss him out the door and hope he leaves quietly.
"We have no plans whatsoever for Mitchell," Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick said Tuesday, after the announcement that Mitchell would not retain the job as director of the newly created Office of Urban Development. "The favor has been paid. You try to help the people that help you. We did that. End of story. We do not feel the obligation to get him another job."
If that sounds cold -- well, the air in Annapolis is chilled by far more than the latest snow. In the political calculations of last summer, it did not matter to the Republicans that Mitchell had been reprimanded by the General Assembly's ethics committee. It did not matter, even though Ehrlich claimed he wanted to "clean up" the traditional ways of doing State House business.
What mattered was an image that might lead to votes. Trying to show they weren't just the party of white people, the Republicans took on Mitchell as a backup symbol to Lt. Gov. Michael Steele. Now, having gotten their use of him, they are quick to dump Mitchell as his problems mount.
Last month, he 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, Mitchell listed assets of $2,300 and liabilities of $436,971.48. And that's only part of the problem.
As The Sun reported last week, Mitchell's bankruptcy papers seem to skirt the truth in several instances -- including matters of previous lawsuits and having his wages garnisheed.
Question: How does a man $436,000 in debt walk away from a $92,000 sweetheart job? Answer: It is inconceivable. But Victor Hoskins insists it's true. Hoskins, the new secretary of the Department of Housing and Community Development, would have been Mitchell's boss.
Late Tuesday, he insisted Mitchell resigned from the job. "It was not his personal stuff," Hoskins said. "He came to my office and told me he was resigning. It's because we had some practical and philosophical differences of opinion, and I happen to be the boss." Hoskins would not elaborate on any of those differences.
He said this despite Schurick's description. "Hoskins," said Schurick, "told the governor and lieutenant governor that he intended to ask for Mitchell's resignation. And they backed him up."
Putting aside Mitchell's leaving, what remains are questions about his arriving. In a time when the state gasps for money, here was a job that seemed to have been created strictly as a political payoff. The odor of cynicism fills the air.
Naturally, all parties issue disclaimers. Schurick says, "The job was not created exclusively to help [Mitchell]. It was created because we thought it was a legitimate function, and he was the right candidate for it." And Hoskins adds, not only is the job legitimate, but he's already picked Mitchelle Wright to fill the position. Wright, currently with the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, has spent 23 years in this field, Hoskins said.
Regarding the underlying importance of the newly created position -- an importance somehow not noticed until Mitchell needed a job -- it's nice to hear Schurick and Hoskins on the same page. Of course, these are the two guys who can't agree if Mitchell jumped or was pushed. (And Mitchell is saying nothing at all.)
So we come to one more sad and uncomfortable conjunction of the Mitchell family and public trouble. Once known as the black Kennedys, who helped give the nation a conscience on race, they have dissembled politically, financially and legally.
Clarence Mitchell IV thought he found a new way out of his troubles last summer. If the Democrats had no use for him, he could capitalize on the desperation of Republicans. He forgot what a cold game politics could be, and how quickly his new friends could turn away if given an opening. It's a cold trudge through the snow to the unemployment line.