Ardinger campaigns with FDR in mind

January 18, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Although Robert Stanley Ardinger's intense special interests set him apart from other Democrats seeking to represent east Columbia in the House of Delegates next year, he is not a captive of those interests, he says.

Mr. Ardinger, 34, is paraplegic because of meningitis he contracted when 21 months old. His condition gives him an unusual perspective on issues common to everyone, he says.

As a disabled person who was isolated in public school, he has known prejudice and can identify with the poor and minorities, he says. "Having a disability caused me to be placed in segregated programs -- it led me into the civil rights movement," he says. "Disabilities are no respecter of race or class."

As a disabled person who sometimes has difficulty using buildings not designed for disabled access, he can identify with the limitations of the elderly -- the "natural allies" of disabled people, Mr. Ardinger says. It is important to both to stay in their homes rather than be institutionalized. "The more we can do with support services to help people stay in homes, the better," he says.

His political model is Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president Mr. Ardinger says was "relatively conservative before his disability," but afterward gained a heightened sensitivity to people's needs. Mr. Ardinger hopes to infuse his campaign with a similar sensitivity and ultimately, to bring that sensitivity to Annapolis.

To that end, he put together a campaign management team led by Rabbi Martin Siegel that includes four blacks, two seniors, and two disabled people.

He works with them the same way he teaches political science classes at Howard Community College -- by asking questions in the Socratic method. (Mr. Ardinger also owns and operates a human relations consulting firm.)

Asking questions led him to suggest that one of the best ways of dealing with crime -- one of three issues in his campaign, along with racism and sexism -- is to look first at children having children. "How can a child raise a child?" he asks.

"We need to reward children for doing what's right," he says. "Right now, we reward them for doing what's wrong."

Those rewards could include payment of tuition or job training.

"Education is really the way to make the basic changes in the long run," he says.

Similarly, asking questions has led him to support "some very aggressive steps in gun control." He proposes a value-added tax on guns and ammunition, which would be used to pay police salaries and provide relief to shooting victims.

He would also require gun owners to be licensed and pass a basic gun test. "I have no problem with the National Rifle Association giving the test and certifying people," he says.

Already, 50 student volunteers have signed with his campaign, he says, and will help canvass neighborhoods and set up coffees and teas for people to discuss ideas. Discussions would begin with questions such as, "Should funding end for government agencies every four years unless they can justify their programs? Should we change from a state tax to user fees? Should we treat drug use from a medical perspective rather than a criminal perspective?"

"For me, this is the exciting stuff," Mr. Ardinger says. He plans to hold a fund-raiser with a "surprise guest" in April and do the bulk of his political activity in the summer.

Although this is his first run for office, Mr. Ardinger is no stranger to politics, having worked closely with Reps. Steny H. Hoyer and Kweisi Mfume to win passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

His competition in District 13A includes four others candidates.

If his disability has slowed him any, he doesn't show it. He runs his company, teaches at the college and lobbies on behalf of people with disabilities. He is also "a very part-time, very sporadic Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins." He earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Maryland in 1983 and a master's degree from Antioch College in 1986.

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