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Run in place?

On Tuesday evening, Charles Stith ó a former ambassador to Tanzania who now heads Boston Universityís African Presidential Archives and Research Center ó huddled in his Brighton home with about a dozen advisers to weigh a possible congressional run. Shortly after the two-hour session concluded, Stith remained noncommittal. "A focal point of the conversation tonight was whether or not the timeline fit with the objective, relative to this upcoming race, and it was a very exhaustive conversation," Stith said. "Over the next 24 hours, Iíll be making a definitive statement about what Iím going to do."

When word leaked out earlier this week that Stith might challenge incumbent Somerville Democrat Mike Capuano for the Eighth Congressional District seat, the dominant reaction among political observers was bafflement. "I have great admiration for both of them, and Stith would be a great candidate," says one political insider. "But I canít imagine what Charles Stith would be thinking, taking on a congressman for whom, as far as I can tell, there isnít a single ideological difference between them."

Paul Simmons, whoís worked as a strategist for Boston city councilor Chuck Turner, predicts that Stith ó a former senior minister at Bostonís Union United Methodist Church ó would fare poorly in a head-to-head contest with Capuano, a former Somerville mayor who won election to Congress after surviving a 10-person Democratic primary in 1998 and is widely thought to be girding for a challenge to Governor Mitt Romney in 2006. "Stith would be road kill," Simmons says. "Capuano is arguably the best field politician currently in Massachusetts, as he proved in the 1998 race. I wonder if this isnít some sort of trial balloon, because Charlie Stith never struck me as being politically stupid ó and it would be stupid to the point of masochism for him to run."

In the June 8 Boston Herald article that broke the news of Stithís prospective candidacy, an unidentified source called Stithís decision to run a "done deal." A few hours before Tuesdayís confab, it was obvious this description did not sit well with the potential candidate. "Iím going to find Anonymous one day and break both Anonymousís legs," Stith said with a laugh. "Itís not a done deal." He noted that the June 5 meeting of the Black Ministerial Alliance ó at which his possible congressional bid was discussed, and which spurred the Herald story ó was a regularly scheduled event. He also insisted that whoever leaked the conversation did not do so at his bidding. And he refused to offer specific criticisms of Capuano, instead portraying his potential candidacy as part of broader political ferment in Greater Bostonís African-American community. "There are conversations that are taking place about candidates of color being a part of the broader political mix," he said. "Right now the ceiling is the state Senate, and clearly weíve got contributions to make in addition to that."

A Stith-Capuano showdown would offer some interesting subplots. Because the filing deadline for Democratic and Republican candidates has already passed, Stith ó a long-time registered independent ó would avoid the Democratic primary and face Capuano in the final election. Two state senators ó Jarrett Barrios and Dianne Wilkerson ó are thought to have great interest in succeeding Capuano; because a Capuano gubernatorial run would be bolstered if he makes a strong showing in this fallís congressional election, itís worth asking whether Barrios and Wilkerson might quietly help Capuano if Stith enters the fray. Finally, Capuano has been a political mentor to Ego Ezedi, an associate minister of Morning Star Baptist Church who failed to unseat District Four councilor Charles Yancey in last fallís Boston City Council elections despite reported support from the Black Ministerial Alliance. The BMA seems poised to work on Stithís behalf. Would Ezedi, whoís currently a spokesman for the Democratic National Convention Committee, break ranks with his ministerial peers to labor for Capuano?

If Stith runs, heíll need to raise a lot of money very quickly. After taking in $51,675 in the first three months of this year, Capuano ended April with over $650,000 in the bank. Factor in Capuanoís vaunted field operation and the advantages of incumbency, and Stith would be in the unenviable position of underdog. But Stith supporters cite the buzz around their man as proof of his viability. "Everyone was very enthusiastic," Joyce Ferriabough, a veteran African-American political consultant, said after Thursdayís meeting. "I havenít seen this kind of enthusiasm in a long time, with people really homing in around the spectacularness of the opportunity to have someone of Charlesís caliber run for office."

Stith could also try to capitalize on his ambassadorial tenure, which ran from 1998 through 2001. "There are concerns in our community about the diminishing stature of our country, given whatís been going on in Iraq," Stith says. "Iíve served internationally as a US ambassador, in a country that was attacked by Al Qaeda, and Iíve had to think about issues of importance like that." Spoken like a soon-to-be candidate.

Issue Date: June 11 - 17, 2004
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