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Mobtown Beat

Active Retirement

Outgoing City Senators Keep One Foot in the Game

By Van Smith | Posted 11/13/2002

"I didn't think I was relevant anymore," state Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-42nd District, joked to a City Paper reporter in October, weeks after she lost her seat in a hard-fought, expensive primary. In January, the Northwest Baltimore legislator will vacate the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "But you still know a lot," the reporter retorted, preparing to ask her about an arcane constitutional amendment on the November ballot. "Yes I do," she agreed, and proceeded to answer the question.

No one knows politics like veteran pols, so they tend to stay in the game long after they've left office. Former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alessandro Jr., for example, left City Hall 30 years ago. Today he's still a go-to guy in political circles and is seen as a wise adviser who knows the bottom of the state's tricky political waters. And former Southeast Baltimore state Sen. John Pica, an attorney with Peter Angelos' law practice who stepped down midterm in 1996 (reportedly in order to spend more time with his family), is ubiquitous in Annapolis as a lobbyist.

Though Hoffman and the city's two other outgoing senators--Perry Sfikas, D-46th, and Clarence Mitchell IV, D-44th, both of whom served for eight years--will be leaving the General Assembly, they are likely to remain active on the political scene. And as newly minted ex-legislators, they have an immediate tool with which to play the game: campaign funds. In the months and weeks since losing or withdrawing their candidacies, all three have made use of their funds in support of favorite causes.

Sfikas, for one, has been politically active since withdrawing from his race July 16 in order to avoid running against fellow Senate veteran George Della, D-47th. (The contest was forced by court-ordered redistricting.) More than half of the nearly $250,000 raised during the four-year election cycle by Friends of Perry Sfikas was spent after he withdrew his candidacy. Calls to interview Sfikas, made to his Baltimore and Washington law offices, went unanswered as of press time.

Sfikas helped the gubernatorial campaign of Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend by offering his campaign office for her use during the election season. And between July 23 and Oct. 9, the shank of the election season, Sfikas spread $26,950 between 11 of his favored campaigns, including $6,000 on Aug. 8 to a noncandidate, outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening. A month later, the Glendening administration announced that Sfikas would fill an $81,000-a-year post on the Maryland Parole Commission--a popular plum for ex-legislators or relatives of politicians. He vacated his seat early to take the job, which--if approved by the Senate--will last until 2006.

Since dropping out of the race, Sfikas has stashed away $64,500 of his campaign funds in an interest-bearing account, where it can grow for later use. He spent large sums for political advice during the summer and fall season. For work on his aborted Senate campaign, consultants Fred Lauer and Martin-Lauer Associates rang up $22,500 between July 5 and July 26. And Sfikas purchased an $8,400 computer system July 6, days before he withdrew from the contest.

On July 5, attorney Albert Figinski, a former Baltimore circuit judge, received $15,000 from the Sfikas campaign--six days before a complaint was filed with the state Attorney Grievance Commission alleging that Sfikas had practiced law without a Maryland license. A source close to Sfikas says that Figinski's fee was for representing the senator before the commission--which he did successfully, as the commission cleared him of the charges. Sfikas has said the complaint did not influence his decision to drop out of the race.

In addition to serving as a parole commissioner, Sfikas' law practice will keep him busy. Though a member of the Pennsylvania and Washington bars, he is not licensed to practice law in Maryland. He is still permitted to represent immigrants before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the bulk of his practice. No word as to whether Sfikas is interested in seeking office again, but with nearly $65,000 in the bank, he's ready to prime the fund-raising pump on short notice.

Hoffman, who will remain a senator until January, says she is keeping her other job, as an international program director at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. "I have a good job," she said during a recent telephone conversation while on a business trip to California. "But if anybody offers me anything interesting, I'll think about it." She has expressed interest in the budget director position in the governor-elect Robert Ehrlich's administration but, for now, Hoffman says she has no interest in pursuing elected office. "You never say never," she says. "But I don't think I'll ever run for office again."

Hoffman used two campaign accounts in her re-election bid, her own and that of a slate, a group of candidates who pool resources to run in a single legislative district. Both committees are winding down their affairs and paying off bills. Combined, the two committees spent nearly $750,000, about $70,000 of it since the Sept. 10 primary. The two had a combined balance of about $60,000 as of Oct. 18, the date of the latest of campaign-finance reports. The slate's account will be closed out, but Hoffman says she will keep her own account open "until I figure out what to do with it. I can use it to help other people."

Aside from chipping in to help the campaigns of former 42nd District Democratic colleagues, delegates Maggie McIntosh ($1,000) and James Campbell ($6,000), Hoffman so far hasn't made donations to other political allies. Since losing the primary, she's "tried to help Kathleen [Kennedy Townsend]. I wasn't asked to do anything, so I volunteered." Hoffman also made donations to her favorite cultural institutions: the Walters Art Museum ($125), the Baltimore Opera Company ($500), and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra ($1,000).

Of the city's three outgoing state senators, Mitchell is by far the most embattled. Ethics controversies and political battles have shadowed him so overwhelmingly that earlier this year he threatened to abandon the Democratic Party and join the GOP. He didn't go all the way, but Mitchell was an energetic backer of Ehrlich. All season long, his campaign shared Mount Vernon offices and campaign staff with Democrats for Ehrlich, a separate campaign.

Mitchell did not return calls seeking comment for this article. And, since his campaign committee hasn't filed two required finance reports with the State Board of Elections, no details are available regarding his campaign activities since mid-August, when his account balance was a mere $1,721. (Mitchell's campaign is saddled with fines--$410 and growing-- until it files the late reports.)

Nonetheless, it is clear from available records that Mitchell's organization and Democrats for Ehrlich are intertwined. Four campaign workers who received a total of $6,100 from the Mitchell campaign until the beginning of August also received a total of nearly $7,000 from Democrats for Ehrlich. And during and after his failed bid to retain his seat, which now goes to Del. Verna Jones, D-44th, Mitchell campaigned relentlessly for Ehrlich.

Now that Ehrlich has won, Mitchell has started to refer to himself as an "adviser to the governor" and told the press that he would "like to serve in whatever role this governor sees fit." When asked if there are plans to include Mitchell in the new administration, Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver issued a snappy, "None," adding that, so far, "no promises have been made to anyone."

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