William E. Roberts Sr. has run unsuccessfully for City Council, mayor, governor and the state legislature. But in the minds of law-abiding residents of the 2000 block of Walbrook Avenue, Mr. Roberts is undisputed king.
Soft-spoken, dignified and determined, Mr. Roberts has single-handedly cleared his block of drug dealers, neighbors say. He has openly videotaped drug deals and incessantly reported dealers to the police.
Now he throws block parties with a single message: Stop drugs.
At last night's party, as speakers blared pop songs and friends and neighbors served hot dogs, Mr. Roberts declared: "This is my house. I've lived here 45 years, raised eight children here. Why should I have to hide in my house because some crumbs come in and decide to set up a drug business?"
Mr. Roberts, 65, lives on Walbrook Avenue between Payson and Pulaski streets in West Baltimore. He is tall, has a salt-and-pepper beard and wore a National Rifle Association cap.
He began videotaping drug dealers five years ago after they took control of his block, turning residents into virtual prisoners. His vigilance worked, neighbors says; their block is a haven in a drug-infested community.
"Thanks to Mr. Roberts," said Felecia Hoskins, 25, who lives four doors down from Mr. Roberts. "The only way my children are allowed outside without supervision is if Mr. Roberts is out here."
She sat on her front steps last night along with most of her neighbors. Sometime during the evening, nearly everyone on the block trooped to Mr. Roberts' front door, where he had set up serving tables. He had bought 600 hot dogs and 21 cases of soft drinks.
This was his second anti-drug block party this summer. He said he plans on having more.
"We freed a whole nation, Kuwait, in 48 days," he said. "Yet we've been under siege here since 1985. Cavalry hasn't arrived yet."
Mr. Roberts has been written up in the newspaper and featured on TV. He has run for office as the anti-drug candidate. He has been called eccentric for his single-minded battle against drugs.
"Why do I have to be odd, eccentric or crazy because I have the courage of my convictions?" he said. "I fight for what I believe in, even though the odds are insurmountable."
His block parties are his latest effort to alert children to the dangers of drugs and to draw attention to the overwhelming drug problem in the city.
"Upper middle-class whites have no idea what it's like to live down here," Mr. Roberts said. "When I step out that door, I don't know if I'm coming back or not. I don't know if there's going to be a gunfight or not."
The street is mostly quiet outside Mr. Roberts' rowhouse. But he said he frequently hears distant gunshots in the night.
And, while drug dealers have threatened him several times, he insisted he is not afraid.
"I hope my luck is better than Custer's," he said, smiling. "I hope this isn't Roberts' last stand."