Henson says he won't run for mayor City's housing chief says he prefers a role away from forefront; 'Scratch my name'; Decision seen likely to bring additional candidates into race


Another leading hopeful in Baltimore's mayoral race announced yesterday that he will not seek the post in the 1999 election, increasing the likelihood that a flurry of other candidates will enter the race.

Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner, said he has received a steady stream of calls from people urging him to run since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced two weeks ago that he would not seek re-election.

Henson described himself as a "mechanic" who goes about helping to fix problems rather than standing in the forefront in a job such as mayor.

"Scratch my name from the list," Henson said during his monthly news conference yesterday. "You guys would make it my personal hell in 1999. I'm not going to put my family through that," he told reporters.

"I'm an activist. I'm a businessman," he said. "I've been much more comfortable behind the scenes."

Henson's announcement comes 11 days after Kweisi Mfume, the president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People whom many Baltimore residents and political leaders had hoped would seek the mayor's job, said he would not run.

If Mfume had sought the position, many Baltimoreans said, he would have been an immediate front-runner who would have caused many candidates to drop out.

Henson, despite his controversial tenure as city housing commissioner, was considered a strong candidate because of his name recognition and his roles as an aggressive housing chief and longtime political activist.

Political observers such as state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, who is considering a run for mayor, have said they are concerned about a lack of viable mayoral candidates. Rawlings describes the current field as "thin."

Several people have declared their candidacies, and the list continues to grow as more prominent political leaders in the city shy away from the race.

Four people have declared their candidacies -- Mary W. Conaway, the city register of wills; Carl Stokes, a former city councilman and current school board director; A. Robert Kaufman, an activist and perennial candidate for various offices; and Phillip A. Brown, another city activist who twice ran unsuccessful campaigns for City Council.

Brown announced his candidacy Friday, saying he does not believe that the current candidates are effective leaders. He also said he wants to improve the city's schools.

"I don't believe they're going to do anything," Brown said. "I think that folks are fed up. They're tired of name-brand people. I can do just as much as the next person running."

Several others considering a run for mayor are among some of the strongest prospects, including Mfume's cousin City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III; Joan M. Pratt, Baltimore comptroller; Patricia C. Jessamy, the city state's attorney; and state Sen. Joan Carter Conway.

Henson said he decided not to run after attending an event over the weekend and after discussions with his family.

"I had my 80-year-old aunt calling me every day asking me if I were running for mayor," Henson said.

And Saturday, he attended a gospel program featuring local artists, at which he was presenting awards. While there, he said several people approached him about running for mayor after they had read in local newspapers that he might throw his name in the race.

"Quite honestly, I was very uncomfortable with the discussion," Henson said. "One lady even suggested I ought to get a hairpiece."

The housing commissioner said he did not want to spend time thinking about such issues as hairpieces, what tie he should wear and how he should respond to questions from the media.

Henson said he plans to finish his term as housing commissioner and will help with next year's election. He said he will decide later what he will do after his term ends -- whether to seek an extension or pursue other opportunities.

But he said he hopes the candidates will focus on issues and the future of the city because the current administration isn't seeking the mayor's post.

"I'm out. The mayor's out. So they've either got to talk about each other or the future," Henson said. "One of the things I would like to hear from each of these people is their views for the future."

Pub Date: 12/16/98

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