Split threatens auto insurance coalition

February 11, 1993

Four years ago, an organization called the City-Wide Insurance Coalition announced it wanted to put an end to Baltimore's sky-high automobile insurance rates -- which often are twice those in the rest of Maryland. Born out of the Rainbow Coalition of Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign, the coalition claimed that city drivers could realize savings of up to 80 percent if a private, non-profit corporation were established to insure city drivers. Many critics say such a claim is poppycock, based on false assumptions and an incomplete understanding of what the insurance business entails.

Although the coalition says a 1991 study supported its alleged savings, it has never been able to raise enough money for a consultant's report on how a non-profit corporation should be structured and operated. Worse yet, the coalition has now split. Its president, A. Robert Kaufman, is no longer on speaking terms with Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who has established a rival organization to conduct fund raising. At public functions, such as a recent meeting of the Mount Royal Democratic Club, the two men keep trading charges.

Mr. Kaufman contends that City Hall, from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke to council members, are set to "decapitate our grass roots democratic movement." Mr. Stukes, for his part, says the coalition was not going anywhere under Mr. Kaufman's leadership. "A lot of time was wasted because of bashing, telling non-truths and disruptive type of behavior," the councilman asserts.

The insurance coalition's 1991 study reported that nearly half of the total work force in Baltimore City commutes from areas outside the city, not including tens of thousands of people who travel through the city en route to work every day. About 75 percent of all accidents in the city are said to happen during peak commuting hours and presumably involve great numbers of drivers who live in counties which enjoy low insurance rates. Yet such accidents are said to be adversely affecting the rates Baltimore residents pay.

This split between two strong personalities is a keen disappointment for many Baltimoreans. The rift comes at a time when Mayor Schmoke has promised $100,000 toward an actuarial and business analysis of a private car-insurance corporation, if citizens raise can $60,000. Whatever its basis, the squabbling could spell the end to four years' worth of hard work by Baltimoreans interested in reforming car insurance.

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