Family ties boost City Council candidacies


IT'S MONDAY night and Keiffer Mitchell Jr. is observing the goings on in the Baltimore City Council chambers.

This is an election year and Mr. Mitchell, a 27-year-old recent law school graduate, is thinking about running for the City Council.

"That's why I come here Mondays to see what's happening," he explains.

Keiffer Mitchell Jr. is not exactly a stranger in the chambers. Years ago, when he was a toddler, his uncle, then-Councilman Michael Mitchell, used to take him occasionally to see City Council deliberations.

In those days, another uncle, Clarence M. Mitchell III, was a state senator. A great-uncle, Parren Mitchell, was a pioneering African-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland.

The list of family achievements runs on: Grandfather Clarence Mitchell Jr. was a famed behind-the-scenes factotum in Washington for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Grandmother Juanita Jackson Mitchell once was the embodiment of that civil rights organization in Baltimore City.

But that is history and the new generation of Mitchells is hoping to make some of their own. Last year, 32-year-old Clarence M. Mitchell IV ran for the House of Delegates from West Baltimore's 44th District and emerged as a top vote getter. Keiffer Mitchell Jr. managed young Clarence's campaign.

There normally is no shortage of candidates in Baltimore's quadrennial municipal elections. This year, the field promises to be even more crowded than usual. Even the Republicans, who have not had a representative in the City Council since 1939, are organizing in force.

"I am tired of business as usual, I am tired of the one-party system in the city," says Don Carver, 32, a Republican from Upper Fells Point who hopes to give Democrats a run for their money in the First District.

The Republicans think they have a good chance in two districts, East Baltimore's First and South Baltimore's Sixth. Those areas delivered a strong vote for Ellen Sauerbrey, the almost-victorious GOP gubernatorial candidate, in last year's election.

All this is easier said than done, however. In politics, a candidate needs a combination of name recognition, issues, funding and good luck. Few hopefuls enjoy enough of those qualities.

For that reason, a man like Keiffer Mitchell Jr., if he chooses to run, would be in an enviable position. He has instant name recognition in the Fourth District.

There may be more propelling him than the name, of course.

After the election of Clarence M. Mitchell IV, the younger generation is clearly hoping to repair the family's somewhat tarnished name and reclaim its political prominence.

That means that state Sen. Larry Young, an erstwhile protege and ally, has to watch out. The Mitchells have made it clear they feel the seat belongs to one of them.

More immediately -- and more intriguingly -- the re-emergence of the Mitchells in Westside politics means that they will be a factor in the mayoral duel between two-term incumbent Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

"It's going to be an interesting election," is all a poker-faced Keiffer Mitchell Jr. is willing to say at this point.

As other reoccurring political names as Dixon, Adams, Curran and Murphy suggest, having an identifiable moniker is often half the battle in a crowded field.

There is talk that Lawrence Bell III, who wants to be the next City Council president, has a brother who may run for Mr. Bell's Fourth District City Council seat. Marshall Bell was baptized in elective politics last year when he won a seat on the Democratic State Committee.

Rumored as a council candidate in the Fifth District is Stephanie Rawlings, daughter of Del. Howard P. Rawlings.

Another name that has proven successful in politics is Murphy.

In fact, now that lawyer Timothy Murphy has been elevated from the City Council to the General Assembly in Annapolis, my Union Square neighbor, organist Tim Murphy, is a fool if he doesn't plunk down the filing fee and take a chance.

He might just squeak in, without doing anything.

Those not blessed with an opportune political name must labor hard at campaigning and fund-raising if he or she hopes to be successful.

Because council vacancies in the First and Sixth districts were filled only recently, the number of candidates in those areas is expected to be particularly high this time.

This is encouraging. The bigger the changes in the City Council, the better the chance that it finally could shake off its lamentable lethargy. Baltimore deserves better than what it has now.

Antero Pietila writes editorials on Baltimore City for The Evening Sun.

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