Ehrlich hires Mitchell IV for $92,000-a-year post

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. has hired Clarence M. Mitchell IV for a high-paying job that will give the former Baltimore senator considerable influence in shaping the state's efforts to revitalize the city.

Mitchell, who was defeated last year after being reprimanded by the General Assembly ethics committee, will be paid $92,049 a year as the director of the newly created Office of Urban Development.

Mitchell - who was head of the governor's "Democrats for Ehrlich" campaign committee - will manage five employees in the office, which is part of the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"I found him to be someone who is an idea person, who has an absolute, and I mean absolute, and complete dedication to the revitalization of Baltimore City, and that is a priority of my administration," Ehrlich said yesterday.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who supported Mitchell's opponent in last fall's Democratic primary, said the Senate plans to scrutinize the hiring.

Although Mitchell's appointment does not require Senate confirmation, Miller said the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee would hold hearings on whether the new office is needed and whether Mitchell deserves his salary.

"The governor needs to reward his campaign people in a manner he sees fit, but the General Assembly has a responsibility to see the state's resources are spent wisely," Miller said.

Mitchell could not be reached for comment last night.

Mitchell had represented West Baltimore in the General Assembly since 1994 - first in the House of Delegates and then in the Senate - but he was defeated last fall by former Del. Verna E. Jones after a bitter contest. The Mitchell family has been a force in Baltimore politics for 50 years.

Jones campaigned as a fresh alternative to Mitchell, who had received a sharp rebuke from the General Assembly's ethics committee after it found that the senator had failed to disclose a $10,000 loan from three businessmen with issues before the legislature.

Last month, Mitchell filed for personal bankruptcy after listing assets of $50,000 and debts of $500,000.

A half-dozen creditors have sued Mitchell for tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid bills over the past six years - including the state of Maryland, which was forced to file a lien to collect unpaid taxes. Mitchell repaid the $1,137 tax lien in October 1997.

Ehrlich said Mitchell "has had some problems" but is "a bright guy."

"I think he is very well-respected in many quarters of the city, particularly West Baltimore," Ehrlich said.

Mitchell was one of the first - and only - elected Democratic officials to endorse Ehrlich's candidacy last year. He served as a paid adviser to Ehrlich's campaign and worked tirelessly to woo African-Americans to the Republican ticket.

Housing Secretary Victor L. Hoskins said yesterday that Mitchell was hired after a lengthy interview process involving a number of candidates. "He is tremendously committed not just to the city, but to other parts of Maryland," Hoskins said.

The secretary said Mitchell will be charged with overseeing some of the administration's most important urban renewal initiatives.

One of the most ambitious projects will be the development of a four-block entertainment and business district on the city's west side. The project has long been a Mitchell priority, but it has stalled in recent months.

Mitchell will also oversee efforts to revitalize Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore and the city's Reservoir Hill, Mondawmin and Patterson Park neighborhoods, among others, Hoskins said.

In Prince George's County, Mitchell will try to coordinate the administration's concerns about an influx of poor residents from Washington because of a shortage of affordable housing.

"He has been working in these communities for years and has relationships not only with the city, which are critical for making this work, but also with the private sector and the nonprofits," Hoskins said.

It is unclear how well Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who worked to defeat Mitchell last year, will receive the former senator.

Tony White, the mayor's spokesman, said the mayor was unaware that Mitchell - who started the job a week ago - would be working with city leaders on redevelopment issues.

"We would appreciate some more information about the position before we would be able to comment: what the position is and how it would interact with the city and city representatives," White said.

Miller wants similar information, and details about why Mitchell's salary approaches six figures. Mitchell will also receive a state car.

"As we start downsizing and cutting the budget, there will be serious questions on whether we can afford that kind of patronage," Miller said.

The state salary represents a significant raise for Mitchell, who has only worked part time in recent years. Arthur M. Frank, Mitchell's attorney, told The Sun in April that Mitchell's only job since 1997 was his Senate seat, which paid $31,509.

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