Three-term Baltimore City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. said yesterday that he is running for mayor and will officially launch his candidacy the day after his chief opponent, Sheila Dixon, is publicly sworn in to the position.
The Democratic councilman said in an interview with The Sun that he will formally kick off his campaign for the 2007 election on Jan. 19 - the same week Martin O'Malley becomes governor and Council President Dixon begins to serve out the remainder of his mayoral term.
"I'm in the race no matter what, no matter who's in it," said Mitchell, 39, a married father of two and scion of one of Baltimore's best-known political families.
Mitchell's entry into the race ends speculation that he was seeking the council presidency and presages a crowded campaign to succeed O'Malley in this fall's election. Mitchell, who has served on the council since 1995, has long been considered a possible mayoral candidate who could be positioned to run a formidable campaign.
Many believed that the Bolton Hill resident was going to wait until former U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume decided whether to seek the office. In 1999, Mitchell worked on the "Draft Mfume" campaign that tried to get the NAACP leader to run for mayor.
Mfume could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mitchell said his council position makes him ideally suited for mayor because he has had to balance the myriad interests in the 11th District: the downtown business district and the Inner Harbor, thriving residential neighborhoods such as Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill, and more challenged areas in West Baltimore.
Mitchell is well known for setting up an open-air office several times a year at a drug corner on Pennsylvania Avenue and Laurens Street, where he signs up residents for drug treatment, job training and other services. Mitchell said he plans to announce his candidacy for mayor on that same corner.
He said he will pursue a grassroots campaign that will continue his citywide listening tour to learn the city's needs.
"I've thought long and hard about this. The theme of this campaign is going to be to listen to what people have to say and try to solve problems," Mitchell said over a late lunch at Jimmy's Restaurant in Fells Point. "I think I've established a record of someone trying to solve problems on the City Council. ... So I'm jumping in with both feet."
His campaign does not yet have a manager, but Mitchell has hired Barb Clapp Advertising & Marketing of Baltimore to handle his fundraising and Squier Knapp Dunn to manage his media message. In addition, Mitchell said, he has enlisted national Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman.
Fundraising will begin this month, including an event at a Mexican restaurant downtown.
Dixon, who announced in November that she would seek a full, four-year mayoral term in the Sept. 11 primary election, has a considerable head start in fundraising: She had more than $331,000 on hand, compared with his $22,900, as of November.
Dixon, who represented the council's 4th District with Mitchell before a 2003 redistricting, declined to comment yesterday.
Mitchell will also face off against former high school principal Andrey Bundley, Circuit Court Clerk Frank Conaway Sr. and Del. Jill P. Carter.
Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt expressed interest in the race last month but has not returned phone calls seeking more detail about her candidacy.
Mitchell "will be a significant challenge," said former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "He seems to have developed strong ties in the neighborhoods and in the business community."
Lenneal J. Henderson, professor at the University of Baltimore's school of public affairs, said the race will be tight because women vote more than men, which could give female candidates an advantage. But with multiple women in the race, that voting bloc could be diluted, giving a male candidate an opportunity.
"If Keiffer is in, you have the entire Mitchell family to deal with," said Henderson. "While they've had their ups and downs, they are a formidable force."
Keiffer Mitchell's grandfather, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., was a leading national figure in the civil rights movement and was a Washington lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The Baltimore Circuit Courthouse on the west side of Calvert Street is named for Mitchell's grandfather.
His great-uncle, Parren J. Mitchell, was a pioneering African-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Maryland.
His uncle is Clarence M. Mitchell III, a former state senator who served time in federal prison for accepting money to block a congressional investigation of a New York defense contractor. His cousin, Clarence M. Mitchell IV, lost re-election to the state Senate in 2002 after having received a sharp rebuke from the General Assembly's ethics committee.
Keiffer Mitchell graduated from Boys' Latin and obtained a political science degree from Emory University in 1990 and a law degree from the University of the District of Columbia law school four years later. He has taught history at Boys' Latin and stayed at home with his first child before going to work in April 2005 for Harbor Bank. He started at the community bank as a teller and is now a business development officer.
His wife, Nicole, used to teach Spanish at the Gilman School but now stays at home with their 4-year-old son, Jack, and 2-year-old daughter, Kenna.
Craig A. Thompson, a partner at the Venable law firm in downtown Baltimore, has known the Mitchell family for years and has known the councilman for more than a decade. Mitchell's reputation of having strong ties with the business community, he said, is deserved.
"Keiffer gets it," Thompson said. "He understands the nature of business and its connection to community development. He also understands the relationship between businesses and potential employees and how all of these areas are connected with each other."
Mitchell has attracted criticism recently for pushing a bill through the council that will allow Mercy Medical Center to demolish several historic rowhouses.
Mitchell said he backed the plan because it will make way for a hospital expansion that will result in millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of jobs in a health care industry that is one of the city's few growing markets.
"I was looking at the big picture," Mitchell said. "I knew there'd be heat."
He said his chief efforts as a councilman have been the successful crafting of a $42 million bailout of the Baltimore public school system, a failed attempt to defeat the plan to publicly finance a convention center hotel and pushing for the creation of more charter schools in the city.