BALTIMORE -- Kweisi Mfume, a former five-term congressman who recently stepped down as president of the NAACP, announced yesterday that he will run for the US Senate next year in Maryland.
In announcing his candidacy, the Baltimore native and former radio talk-show host declared in a booming voice: ''I can't be bought. I won't be intimidated, and I don't know how to quit."
Mfume, 56, had made no secret that his sights were set on a Senate seat, but he did not formally announce his candidacy until five-term Senator Paul S. Sarbanes, 72, disclosed last week that he would not seek reelection.
If elected, Mfume would become the first black US senator in Maryland's history and the sixth in American history.
Derek Walker, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party, described Mfume's announcement as ''step one in what will be an embarrassment of wealth for the Democratic Party in 2006."
Mfume already has a strong base with black voters, who generally make up at least 30 percent of the electorate in Maryland's Democratic primaries, said Annapolis-based pollster Patrick Gonzales.
Mfume, 56, left Congress in 1996 to take the helm of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. At the time, the Baltimore-based civil rights group was in turmoil -- rocked by an embarrassing sex scandal involving its previous leaders, along with bitter internal strife and a $3.2 million deficit.
Many observers say Mfume brought credibility and stability, working to institute corporate-style management practices. When he stepped down in November, the organization had enjoyed a budget surplus for eight consecutive years and an increasing endowment fund.
Mfume, whose full name is pronounced ''kwah-EE-see oom-FOO-may," said he is not afraid to go on the record as a social liberal, although he considers himself a fiscal conservative. Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland 2 to 1, but the state elected a GOP governor in 2002 for the first time in 36 years. Mfume, whose adopted West African name translates to ''conquering son of kings," also has broad name recognition.
Five of Maryland's six Democratic congressmen said last week that they were considering a Senate run. But one, Al Wynn, said yesterday that he was dropping any such plan. Two others announced that they would form committees to consider a run.