- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

BALTIMORE State Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV's decision to cross party lines last week and endorse a Republican for governor caught many Maryland Democrats and Republicans by surprise. But for longtime observers of the state's "first family of civil rights," the decision was a reminder that Mr. Mitchell like his father and his grandparents before him isn't afraid to defy political convention.
"Those who think I will be quiet don't know Juanita Jackson Mitchell's grandson, Lillie Carroll Jackson's great-grandson and Clarence Mitchell IIl's son," Mr. Mitchell told colleagues earlier this year as he publicly pondered leaving the Democrats for the GOP and faced an ethics reprimand over an unpaid loan he took from a bail bondsman whose business could be affected by his votes.
The 39-year-old lawmaker decided to remain a Democrat, but he has denounced his party and its leadership for not doing enough for minorities and for taking black voters for granted.
His great-grandmother Lillie Carroll Jackson, a Republican, and his grandmother Juanita, Mrs. Jackson's then-18-year-old daughter, organized the "Buy Where You Can Work," street campaign in 1931, steering black Baltimoreans to boycott businesses with racist hiring practices. Mrs. Jackson revived the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and led the legal battle in 1938 to pay black teachers in Maryland as much their white counterparts.
In 1950, her daughter, Juanita, became the first black woman to practice law in Maryland. She married Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., the NAACP's lobbyist in Washington for three decades, whose role in getting key civil rights bills enacted into law earned him the title "101st senator for civil rights."
From Mitchells credited with creating the backbone of the civil rights movement in Baltimore in the 1930s to descendants who went to prison in 1988 for ties to the scandal-plagued Wedtech Corp., the family has never gone quietly.
And they've always worked both sides of the aisle.
When former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell III and his brother Michael B. Mitchell were convicted in 1987 of conspiring to block a congressional investigation into the Wedtech scandal, the state lawmaker blamed Republican prosecutors, who he said had leaked information to discredit black politicians and hurt his own campaign to succeed Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, his uncle, in representing Maryland's 7th District in Congress.
U.S. Federal Judge Norman P. Ramsey sentenced the brothers to 30 months in federal prison for accepting a total of $110,000 from Wedtech, saying that letting the temptation of "easy money" smear their birthright was a tragedy.
But while Mr. Mitchell III blamed Republicans for his troubles in 1987, he like his son has never been afraid to stand with a Republican when he thought it was the right thing to do.
When George P. Mahoney won the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor in 1966 on a platform that tolerated racist housing policies, Mr. Mitchell III organized Democrats for Agnew, helping elect Maryland's last Republican governor.
During the close gubernatorial election in 1998, when Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend broadcast a last-minute series of ads insinuating that Republican opponent Ellen R. Sauerbrey was racist for voting against a so-called civil rights bill, Mr. Mitchell III defended her before a crowd in Baltimore. Although he made no endorsement, Mr. Mitchell III noted that Democrats defeated the bill and did so for reasons that had nothing to do with civil rights.
"We've let them stereotype without honest rebuttal," said Victor Clark, who is black and chairman of Baltimore's Republican Central Committee.
If the elder Mitchells were still here, they would be asking the same question Mr. Mitchell is posing in endorsing Mr. Ehrlich, Mr. Clark said: "If they've had 50 years of being your leaders, why are there still problems?"
Delegate Salima Siler Marriott, a Baltimore Democrat, said Mr. Mitchell's action signals to her party that blacks are getting fed up with being taken for granted.
"It's something you're going to see more and more challenging the Democratic Party status quo," Ms. Marriott said. She added that because the new Democrat-drawn redistricting map puts Mr. Mitchell in a district where more voters are white and conservative, endorsing a Republican is "probably to his political advantage."

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