Activist chooses his next crusade: the City Council

January 10, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

He donned a Pinocchio nose to confront Baltimore's most powerful politicians, handed out fliers calling the mayor a liar and was tossed out of the City Council chamber.

Now A. Robert Kaufman, the social activist whose audacity has won him a reputation as a nuisance at City Hall, is on a new crusade. He is seeking a seat on the council.

Mr. Kaufman, 63, who lives in Walbrook Junction, filed with the Board of Elections yesterday to become the first official candidate in West Baltimore's 4th District.

He quickly made it clear that he's no typical council candidate.

His message is to organize the community to "empower the 90 percent of our population, which together possesses less wealth than our 1 percent ruling class." His goals are to decriminalize drug use and to replace the city's property tax with income and commuter taxes.

"The terms leadership and City Hall are an oxymoron," said Mr. Kaufman, who pledged to remain an outspoken activist if elected to the council. "There's little one person can do but whistle and expose what's really going on."

His treasurer, Truxon M. Sykes, head of the Baltimore Homeless Union, said too often politicians become part of the establishment.

"I know if he gets in there, he'll work for the little people," he said.

Two of the three incumbents in the 4th District -- Councilwomen Agnes Welch and Sheila Dixon -- are expected to seek re-election in the Democratic primary in September. Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III has announced plans to seek the council presidency instead.

Mr. Kaufman, who is running as a Democrat, marched for civil rights in the 1960s and then became involved in a variety of grass-roots campaigns. He's been banned from synagogues for criticizing Israel and threatened for his protests against Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. He's also run for mayor, governor, president and the U.S. Senate.

He is perhaps best known for his fight to lower auto insurance rates. As head of the City-Wide Insurance Coalition, he pushed for years to create a nonprofit auto insurance cooperative that would offer sharply reduced rates to city residents.

Last January, city officials agreed to fund the development of a rate plan for an auto insurance "buyers' club." The co-op is expected to begin offering discounted rates this spring.

Mr. Kaufman's grass-roots coalition quickly claimed victory and reorganized to begin lobbying on other fronts. The City-Wide Coalition wants the council and mayor to petition Congress to establish an independent commission that would distribute heroin, cocaine and other narcotics through health clinics.

"This is a program that would minimize the number of young addicts, minimize the damage that an addict does to a community and minimize the damage an addict does to him or herself," he said, adding that it would also take the profit and violence out of the drug trade.

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