The unlikeliest political candidate of them all was the late Melvin Perkins. The last time he ran for mayor of Baltimore, back in 1987, he got a swell total of 534 votes in spite of everything.
Everything? Well, over the years, he ran for a variety of offices under a variety of names — his own name, and Rep. Goodloe Byron’s. Congressman Byron wasn’t using his name at that time, the late 1970s, since he had unfortunately just died. So Melvin thought he’d use it — he actually filed papers to change his name to Goodloe Byron — hoping maybe voters wouldn’t particularly notice the clever disguise as he ran for Byron’s seat.
Then there was the issue of Melvin’s appearance. His clothes fit him like a convulsion. His hair looked like he passed out on it wrong. He was the only person I ever interviewed who had bad breath over the phone.
Time magazine called Melvin “the Republican hobo of Baltimore’s skid row.” Actually, he was Republican and Democrat, depending on circumstances.
His life mainly consisted of unsuccessfully running for a series of political offices (which he considered easier than actual work), hanging out on The Block, and filing random lawsuits. Over a 20-year period, by Melvin’s own count, he’d filed more than 1,000 such suits.
I think of him now because contenders are lining up all over the place to run for the various high offices connected to Baltimore City Hall.
This week alone, we had the eastside City Council member Shannon Sneed announce she’ll run for City Council president. From the west side, we’ve already got Councilman Leon Pinkett running. And Sneed’s announcement came as West Baltimore’s State Del. Nick J. Mosby declared he’s thinking of running for Council president.
We’ve got the current Council President, Brandon Scott, on board to run for mayor, and the current mayor, Bernard “Jack” Young, pondering his options.
All of the above are Democrats. The possibility of a Republican atop Baltimore City Hall – it hasn’t happened since Mayor Theodore McKeldin, nearly 60 years ago – would be highly unusual.
But not as unusual as Perkins, who ran for Congress, for mayor and for Council seats. He lived, some of the time, at downtown’s battered old Armistead Hotel, which was about to be demolished, with or without Melvin in it. Much of the time, he lived at one no-fixed-address after another.
One time, he tried to run for attorney general. Informed that you had to be an actual attorney to be attorney general, Melvin declared, “But I’ve been filing lawsuits for the past 20 years. That oughta count for something.”
Melvin’s campaign for congress wasn’t particularly helped when he landed in the Baltimore County Jail. He got into a tiff with a bus driver over eating a sandwich on the bus.
“What’s the problem?” Melvin asked. “We’ve had plenty of congressmen who ended up in jail.”
Yes, and not only congressmen.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, most recently “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).