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Monday, April 25, 2005

Cardin and Mfume

Olesker of the Sun has some commentary on the Senate race:

Cardin wishes to replace the retiring Paul Sarbanes. Some say he is a natural successor, since he has spent his years in the House mirroring Sarbanes in intelligence and style. Each is respectful of process. Each is a serious student of issues. Neither makes the instinctive beeline for all available microphones, nor has the ego to alert TV cameras just because they're giving a talk to a classroom of college students.


In his days in the Baltimore City Council, Mfume used to enrage a mayor named William Donald Schaefer. He was the house contrarian. You'd hate to recount the number of council votes that ended 18 to 1. Mfume was the holdout. Often, just on principle.

When he went to Congress, he was such a strident voice for minorities and for poor people that he became a national figure. Even Schaefer (who has deep respect for Cardin) came to admire Mfume. And, after nine years in the House, he spent the next nine years as the NAACP's national president, until resigning last fall.

But there are those who say he lost some of his edge at the NAACP. They tell you this with mixed feelings. They understand that people mature, and they mellow. They figure out texture, and learn what sells. But, if Mfume has moderated, it comes with a history.

As NAACP president, his first mission was to bring the organization back to financial stability as well as political credibility. He had to reach out to those whose natural instincts aren't the embrace of bomb throwers. Mfume had to learn compromise.

Now, as he and Cardin begin to face each other, we will see if his viewpoint has changed, or only his vocal cords. At his most passionate, Mfume's voice is exactly what the Democrats have lacked. At his best, he talks about the need for economic fairness and doesn't worry about upsetting a bunch of multimillionaires who just got huge tax breaks.