7th District race could hold surprises

February 10, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

On Feb. 1, Marylanders Organized for Responsibility and Equity (MORE) put out a list of the "best-qualified" candidates for the 7th District congressional seat. Regrettably for this paper's columnists, one Robert Kaufman was not among them.

"Bashful" Bob called me last Saturday -- as if I'm the Great Black Ombudsman on such matters -- grousing and harrumphing about the perceived snub. Being a sucker for oppressed white minorities, I gave a listen.

"Is it that I'm too radical or too white?" Kaufman huffed. While it's nice of him to give us a choice, the answer is probably neither. There are 32 people in the race. Even those with Kaufman's qualifications -- a history of helping desegregate Baltimore long before it became popular and heading a coalition to lower insurance rates for city dwellers -- may not make the final cut. As if a thing like that would stop Kaufman.

This past Wednesday he called me again. State Sen. Larry Young had invited what he described as a "short list" of MORE's "best-qualified" candidates to speak to the men's group at New Shiloh Baptist Church. Again, Kaufman was not on the list.

"I'm going to crash the party," he told me, with a hint of mischief in his voice. Indeed he did. Also attending was Assistant State's Attorney Traci Miller, who was on the MORE list but was not invited to New Shiloh. She showed up anyway to express her opinion.

"If it's a candidates' forum, everyone should have been invited," she said. "If it's an endorsement meeting, then they should say that." Ah, Traci Miller. Don't you like her already?

Young agreed to let Kaufman address the group at New Shiloh (Miller had to leave to speak before a Korean group), citing "Bashful" Bob's prior commitment to the black community. Attorney Dwight Pettit was also on hand to speak. Both he and Kaufman were at a larger forum Thursday night at the Liberty Health System on Towanda Avenue, where 15 of the 32 candidates showed up.

Kaufman reiterated his campaign themes -- virtually a mantra by now -- of organizing the 90 percent of Americans against the 1 percent who own most of the wealth. He's for a government jobs program and was one of only a few in attendance who dared utter the phrase "national health insurance." It was a speech that would appeal to the leftist in you, assuming there was a leftist in you to which an appeal could be made.

Others said they would fight to keep Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security programs. It was a distinctly liberal-left gathering, with nary a conservative in the bunch.

But the candidates' forum on health issues highlighted one thing: The cakewalk this paper has predicted for the Rev. Frank Reid of Bethel AME Church may not occur. Nor may the predicted three-person race among state Del. Elijah Cummings, state Sen. Delores Kelley and Reid be valid. With the talent being presented at these forums, the race may be a donnybrook.

Will voters go for the popular Reid or the erudite and experienced Cummings? Pettit may make a surge. He has the charisma to pull off an upset. At one point in the forum, he stood and told the audience and his opponents that inevitably Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will be turned over to the states.

"We need you state delegates to stay where you are and fight for those programs," he told his opponents who are now in the state legislature. He urged Reid and the Rev. Arnold Howard of Enon Baptist Church to remain in the pulpit and "pray to give me spiritual strength" when he gets to Washington. His speech brought the house down as the audience erupted in laughter and applause.

Then there's that Miller woman. She's bright, knowledgeable and has quite a bit of charisma of her own. Talk to her for a minute, and you know she's going to be elected to some office sometime in the near future. Why not the congressional district seat?

Then there's that irascible Kaufman guy. Wouldn't it be high drama to see him -- with his history of far-left politics -- match wits on the House floor with Newt Gingrich? For voters who think men have been running the country for too long and have darn near wrecked the joint, there are several women to choose from -- Ava Herndon, Kelley, Miller and state Del. Salima Marriott.

I'm leaning toward Cummings, whom I've known for some 30 years. (We were in the same class at Baltimore City College.) But before March 5, when 7th District voters go to the polls and elect the person who will fill Kweisi Mfume's shoes, the conservative side of me has a question for them all: Keeping Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security while balancing the federal budget will require a substantial tax increase. How high are the candidates willing to see our taxes go?

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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