Mfume hardly flinches as Dobson hurls charges


Rep. Kweisi Mfume is rolling toward the March 3 Democratic primary with the kind of political advantage that would make even a neurotic a bit cocky. He's the incumbent. His opponent has almost no money, and Mr. Mfume trounced him in an election just 18 months ago.

Despite all that, Michael V. Dobson, who is opposing Mr. Mfume for the Democratic nomination to Congress from Maryland's 7th District, is very much on the offensive.

Mr. Dobson is charging that Mr. Mfume has voted wrong on a number of measures since taking office in 1987. The challenger says Mr. Mfume even contributed to the nation's savings and loan crisis by his votes on an important 1987 measure.

Bolstered by supporters in his Coalition for Political Accountability, Mr. Dobson has been handing out many, many fliers and speaking one-on-one with voters to make that charge.

Mr. Dobson is hoping that his frontal assault will dent the image of Mr. Mfume, who is rapidly putting his stamp on a district that was defined for many years by the popular Parren J. Mitchell.

Since winning a bruising election to succeed a retiring Mr. Mitchell in 1986, Mr. Mfume has used the incumbency to good advantage, blending his campaign chores with his work as a congressman.

He has talked with countless voters at community meetings to which he has been invited because he is a congressman -- considered a political plus this year because redistricting has added more than 100,000 new voters to the 7th.

Mr. Mfume also has three offices handling constituent service in the district, which is 70 percent black and includes much of Baltimore as well as much of western and northwestern Baltimore County. He also dips regularly into his campaign coffers to pay for open houses, community forums and holiday parties for his constituents.

"Every time Congress has not been in session I've tried to get around to communities," Mr. Mfume says. "We are trying to broaden our constituent services and get people to know me."

All of that, plus the fact that he received only 11 percent of the vote when he opposed Mr. Mfume in 1990, leaves Mr. Dobson in a difficult position.

Mr. Dobson, the son of the Rev. Vernon Dobson, pastor of Union Baptist Church in West Baltimore, continues the attack, however.

The fliers charge that Mr. Mfume caved in to the savings and loan industry during 1987 votes both in committee and on the floor of Congress. The votes gave the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. an infusion of $5 billion to bail out insolvent thrifts.

"He supported a plan that was doomed to fail," Mr. Dobson says, adding that Mr. Mfume's vote came at the urging of savings and loan industry lobbyists.

In other literature, Mr. Dobson charges that Mr. Mfume's voted in favor of increased pay for congressmen to $125,000 and against transferring "junk mail" funds to programs for drug addicted children.

Mr. Mfume says Mr. Dobson "twists the truth" and Mr. Mfume points to several consumer watchdog groups on Capitol Hill to back his claim.

In 1991, for instance, the Consumer Federation of America named Mr. Mfume a consumer hero for his votes on consumer issues. Also, Public Citizen, the Ralph Nader-led group, lauded Mr. Mfume's vote to trim an appropriation to the Resolution Trust Corp., the agency created to bail out insolvent thrifts.

Mr. Dobson also criticizes Mr. Mfume for favoring aid to Israel.

"He is supposed to be Mr. Anti-apartheid, and he supports a government that trades with South Africa," Mr. Dobson says of his opponent.

Mr. Mfume, meanwhile, dismisses Mr. Dobson's charges as baseless political attacks.

"We're unable to substantiate most of what he says," Mr. Mfume says. "I wonder what he does between elections. He is not involved in bringing change to the community. He just comes out of nowhere and runs."

Mr. Dobson, a loss analyst with Dun and Bradstreet who has never held political office, has raised less than $5,000 in his campaign. So he goes door-to-door to spread his message.

"Hopefully, we will be able to pull some radio off," he says.

Mr. Mfume, meanwhile, says he has on hand $108,000 in campaign funds and that he has budgeted $16,000 of it for radio and newspaper advertisements to run during the campaign's final week.

Despite the sparring, Mr. Mfume says he has not encountered Mr. Dobson in his travels around the district. And, he says, constituents don't ask him about the concerns raised by his opponent.

Instead, Mr. Mfume says, people "want to be told the truth about this economy. They want to know where you are on an issue."

Mr. Mfume's critics say he is not the vocal advocate that the legendary Mr. Mitchell was during his 16 years in office. That is a point about which Mr. Mfume is philosophical.

"There is only one Parren Mitchell. But, rest assured, there will be only one Kweisi Mfume," he said with a laugh. Turning serious, he adds, "We were products of our era and our time, and we develop to meet the needs of the day."

Kenneth Kondner, who also ran in 1990, is unopposed in the Republican primary.

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