Monday, May 16, 2005

BALTIMORE — U.S. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume yesterday publicly dismissed charges that he gave raises and promotions to girlfriends while president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“I can only say as I’ve said at least a thousand times that the allegations are not true,” Mr. Mfume said at a press conference called to respond to the accusations that have dogged his campaign for more than two weeks.

“Anybody can make allegations. That’s the world we live in,” the Democrat said. “And even though there was an investigation that said [the charges] were largely unsubstantiated and unproven, it’s up to people to believe what they want to believe. … I know that at the end of the day you can’t fool people.”

His move to address the charges head-on has been called for by Democrats and Republicans alike.

“I don’t think anyone is rushing to judgment, but they are waiting for answers,” Rep. Albert R. Wynn, a Democrat representing parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, said last week. “These are pretty serious allegations.”

John M. Kane, chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said, “Certain forces are going after [Mr. Mfume]. As a nonbeliever in the politics of personal destruction, I’m not pleased with what is happening to him.”

Mr. Mfume said yesterday that he does not subscribe to any “conspiracy theories” behind the charges. “I’ll just say that it is all coincidence. But at some point in time we need to move on.”

The candidate, who is divorced, has admitted to a romantic relationship with a subordinate at the NAACP in the late 1990s, but he said he broke it off after three months because he thought the office romance was inappropriate. He also adopted the woman’s 4-year-old son.

“That employee — I forget the amount of salary she left there with — was extremely underpaid,” said Mr. Mfume, 56. “[T]here was no favoritism there.

“The other thing is that at some point we have got to stop assuming that every woman in this society that gets ahead got there because of her body and not her brain. That is despicable,” he said, adding that he greatly expanded the ranks of women in managerial positions during his nearly nine years leading the civil rights organization.

Mr. Mfume, who previously served five terms in Congress representing Baltimore, announced his resignation from the NAACP in December.

In October, the NAACP executive committee reviewed a confidential 22-page memo prepared by an attorney to address a lawsuit threat by a female midlevel worker who accused Mr. Mfume of sexual harassment in the workplace.

The report did not substantiate the woman’s charges. However, it stated that the woman could make a convincing argument that female workers had to provide “sexual favors” to Mr. Mfume and his associates to receive promotions and raises.

Other NAACP documents said staff lawyers investigated a fight between two female office workers, apparently over Mr. Mfume’s attentions. One woman was disciplined and the other was promoted, according to one document.

He has said the sexual harassment complaint did not contribute to his decision to leave the NAACP.

The memos were first reported April 28 by The Washington Post. Since then, the charges have dominated Mr. Mfume’s candidacy to the exclusion of all other issues.

Mr. Mfume was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated in 2007 by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Democrat.

Other Democratic candidates vying for the seat are Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin of Baltimore and A. Robert Kaufman, a civic activist who has made several unsuccessful runs for office. Several more Democrats are considering a run, including Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County.

The race would be a historic matchup if Mr. Mfume faced Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a Republican considering a Senate run.

Mr. Mfume said he expects his campaign will continue to be dogged by the sexual harassment charges and other personal attacks, such as criticism for fathering several out-of-wedlock children by different women when he was a young man in Baltimore. But he vowed to persevere.

“I’m not running for dogcatcher, where people are not concerned about issues,” he said. “People are concerned about issues. they are concerned about character. They are concerned about honesty. The more I talk about [the charges], the better it has been and the better people feel about it.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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