- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2007

BALTIMORE — City Council member and mayoral candidate Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. yesterday sought to blunt the impact of revelations that his father used campaign funds for personal expenses, a potentially damaging blow to Mayor Sheila Dixon’s top challenger with little more than a month remaining before the Democratic primary.

Mr. Mitchell’s father, Dr. Keiffer J. Mitchell, a gastroenterologist, resigned Thursday as treasurer after the campaign acknowledged he pocketed more than $40,000 in contributions. Mr. Mitchell said his father has paid back the money.

“We discovered some issues dealing with expenditures that I did not think were related to the campaign and my father believed that they were related to the campaign,” Mr. Mitchell said yesterday.

Mr. Mitchell did not explain why his 65-year-old father thought the spending — which included hotel bills for his wife after a hospital stay — was campaign-related. Maryland law bars political campaigns from using contributions for personal expenses unless they directly benefit the candidate.

Mr. Mitchell said his father was not intentionally trying to undermine the campaign. Dr. Mitchell did not return a call to his office yesterday.

“My dad is a very good man. My dad is a decent man,” Mr. Mitchell said. “This is a very difficult time for me and my family, but my campaign remains focused.”

Mr. Mitchell has been the most vocal and organized challenger to Mrs. Dixon, who took office in January after Martin O’Malley became governor and is seeking a full term. A poll in the Baltimore Sun showed Mrs. Dixon with a comfortable lead among likely Democratic primary voters.

As it was in 1999, when Mr. O’Malley was elected on a zero-tolerance crime-fighting pledge, violent crime has been the top issue in the race. Homicides and nonfatal shootings have risen dramatically this year, and Mr. Mitchell blames Mrs. Dixon, who has shifted away from zero tolerance to a community policing strategy.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm resigned at Mrs. Dixon’s request last month and was replaced by his top deputy.

Mr. Mitchell had previously steered clear of the financial misdeeds that marred the political careers of his uncles, former state Sens. Clarence M. Mitchell III and Michael Mitchell, who both served time in federal prison for taking bribes.

Mr. Mitchell’s cousin, Clarence M. Mitchell IV, lost a re-election bid for the state Senate in 2002 after he was rebuked by the General Assembly’s ethics committee.

“Those things will not overshadow all the great works that my family has done, and also all the great works that my dad has done,” Mr. Mitchell said yesterday.

In a television advertisement, Mr. Mitchell touts his family’s long record in civil rights and public service. His grandfather, Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., was an influential lobbyist for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and his great-uncle was the respected congressman, Parren J. Mitchell, who died earlier this year.

Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist, said Mr. Mitchell’s father’s mistake would remind politically savvy voters of his other relatives’ failures.

“This is not going to help him at all, especially because his own TV ad mentions his family and tradition, and this calls attention to the other side of the tradition, which is trouble with money,” Mr. Crenson said.

Said Martha McKenna, Mrs. Dixon’s campaign manager: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the Mitchell family during this very difficult time.”

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