With pundits increasingly convinced he's not in the race, Kweisi Mfume is still hedging his bets publicly about whether he will run for mayor of Baltimore in this year's election - adding to lingering speculation about his intentions as the deadline for his decision approaches.
After attending a City Hall event yesterday with Mayor Sheila Dixon and another potential mayoral candidate, Comptroller Joan M. Pratt - a symbolic gesture for all three leaders - Mfume said he is not planning to run "at this point" but would not rule out changing his mind this summer.
Mfume's possible candidacy was similarly in question throughout the early stages of the 1999 mayoral campaign - the General Assembly even changed the state's residency requirement to allow the Baltimore County resident to run - but he dropped out in late May of that year.
Less than 10 weeks remain before the July 2 deadline for candidates to file to reserve a spot on the ballot. The Democratic primary, which in Baltimore has decided the mayor's race for more than four decades, will take place Sept. 11.
"I still have the 'gone fishing' sign up on my door," said Mfume, 58, a former congressman, past president of the NAACP and U.S. Senate candidate. "I'll figure it out soon."
Baltimore's mayoral race, which initially appeared to be attracting a large field of candidates, seems to have been winnowed to a much smaller group. Dixon, City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and city schools administrator Andrey Bundley have been the most engaged. Pratt, Del. Jill P. Carter and Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. have also said they are running or considering a run.
Several experts say Mfume's high name recognition and popularity in Baltimore would make his candidacy a potent one. Mfume lost his 2006 Senate primary bid to Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, but in Baltimore he received twice as many votes as Cardin.
Still, observers suggest Mfume is not acting like a candidate. Asked what he has been doing since last year's election, Mfume replied that he has continued to travel around the country on a speaking tour and that he is considering several potential jobs.
"If I was a betting man, I would say he would probably not run," said Lenneal J. Henderson, a professor at the University of Baltimore's school of public affairs. "Unless Sheila Dixon or some of the other so-called front-runners make [an] egregious misstep somewhere, I think he will see [it] as a challenge" not worth taking.
Mfume said as much himself when first asked if he would run for mayor after losing the Senate race last year. At the time, Mfume said he wanted to give Dixon a chance to lead the city before making a decision about his future.
Asked yesterday what kind of a job Dixon is doing as mayor, Mfume suggested it is too early to say. Dixon became mayor Jan. 17 when her predecessor, Martin O'Malley, was sworn in as governor.
"I think 100 days is a short amount of time to grade someone," Mfume said. "I think she has performed up to task as she evolves into this new role, and I think it's only fair that we allow her the opportunity to see how she governs and continues to govern."
He said that being mayor is "one of the greatest jobs you can have, because if you really love the city, you can make things happen." But he suggested that the position he is particularly interested in is still a seat in the U.S. Senate - that is, if Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski decides not to seek re-election in 2010. "I've always thought that the U.S. Senate was a place to make a real difference," he said. "I'm a legislator by definition."