Rumor mill to stop today

The Baltimore Sun

The will-he-won't-he allure of Kweisi Mfume ends today. So do the whispers about a phantom white candidate jumping into Baltimore's mayoral race at the last minute.

The last minute ends at 9 tonight - the deadline by which city candidates must file their papers with the election board, cough up a $150 registration fee and reserve a spot on the primary election ballot. Starting tomorrow, Baltimore's voters will at least know whom they're dealing with.

As in past years, much buzz has surrounded Mfume's potential candidacy. Many believe that if the former congressman and former president of the NAACP entered the mayor's race he would at least shake things up and could possibly trounce his opponents. Mfume, though, has repeatedly said he will not run.

"I've not heard any real hue and outcry from citizens saying 'run,'" Mfume said recently. "I don't want to jump in the middle of this process."

As the deadline has approached, talk of an unnamed white candidate has also begun to spread. Because the leading mayoral candidates are black, there is room, the theory goes, for a white candidate to jump in, grab most of the white vote and a divided segment of the black vote.

That theory, though, rests on an assumption that white voters - whoever they are - pick a candidate based on race.

Similar rumors spread in 1999 after then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke predicted a "phantom menace" would file at the last minute possible. Talk at the time was that the menace would be William Donald Schaefer, then a newly minted comptroller. Schaefer countered the rumors by saying his knees were too wobbly for him to get around.

Then-City Councilman Martin O'Malley announced his candidacy in late June - about two weeks before the deadline.

There are some advantages to keeping a campaign quiet until the filing deadline, but they are relatively few and are offset by a number of disadvantages - particularly a shortened fundraising schedule, said Johns Hopkins University political scientist Matthew Crenson.

"If you just keep mum, then you're not going to be a target until almost the day of the election," Crenson said. "You can look like you're above the fray."

In practice, the field of candidates running for mayor and City Council president this year has been defined for weeks.

The chief contenders include the interim incumbent, Mayor Sheila Dixon, as well as City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., Del. Jill P. Carter, schools administrator Andrey Bundley and Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr.

Socialist A. Robert Kaufman and Philip A. Brown Jr., who ran in 1999, are also seeking the city's top post.

Today's filing deadline - which also covers other city races, including for City Council and comptroller - will confirm or quiet rumors about who might get into the race, but it will not entirely end the electoral jockeying.

Declared candidates have until July 12 to pull their names back out of the hat, withdrawing their candidacy and losing their registration fee.

City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who had originally said she was considering a run for mayor, has since filed for another term as comptroller. John A. Pica Jr., a former state senator who many believed would have made a credible candidate, has also said he won't run.

The city's election office, at 417 E. Fayette St., was already a scene late Friday, as a handful of City Council candidates stood in line to file. Today, the office will stay open until 9 p.m. and is expected to draw dozens of officials and possible candidates.

"It's show time after 6 o'clock down there," said City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran, adding that he does not expect to see many surprises this year. "It's tough to pull surprises because in order to run for citywide office you need to be raising some money. Even for a council race it would be tough to kamikaze them at the end."

The primary election will take place Sept. 11. The last day to register to vote in that election is Aug. 21.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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