Known names in 7th District Some candidates are community activists or ran for office before

Campaign 1996

February 29, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

Each day this week an article on some of the 32 candidates competing in Tuesday's primary election for the seat vacated by Kweisi Mfume in the 7th Congressional District is appearing on this page. Today's article is on candidates with backgrounds in politics and activism. In the crowded field of 32 candidates for the 7th Congressional District seat, there is a group that does not have the built-in constituencies of the ministers and legislators.

Nevertheless, they have made a name for themselves in the community and have generated some kind of a following by running for office or through their community activism.

They include Lynn Sherwood Harris, president of the Sandtown-Winchester Improvement Association in West Baltimore; social activist A. Robert Kaufman; attorney A. Dwight Pettit; West Baltimore community activist Anthony Spriggs; and former Baltimore Sheriff Shelton J. Stewart Jr.

Mr. Pettit generally is considered one of the race's front-runners. He had some name recognition from the commercials for his law practice -- which end with the familiar "If you need me, call me" -- that have aired for years.

Hoping to build on that, he has been airing campaign commercials since December, nearly two months before any other candidate. And he has not been content to rely on the airwaves.

During a drizzly early-morning rush hour last week, Mr. Pettit stood on a traffic island at Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda dressed in a gray parka, holding one of his blue campaign signs and waving at car and trucks. "How are you this morning?" he shouted as he made eye contact with a passing driver.

"You see so many people. It's like doing a TV commercial," he said, moving from one side of the traffic island to the other as the light changed.

"I think people really like to see you work," said Mr. Pettit, who has received endorsements from Bea Gaddy, the East Baltimore advocate for the homeless and hungry, and 4th District City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr.

Mr. Pettit, 50, an Ashburton resident, is a veteran of three political campaigns but has never been elected to office. He finished second in the race for Baltimore state's attorney in 1978; ran sixth in a field of nine candidates for the 7th District congressional seat in 1986; and narrowly missed election in the City Council's 5th District in 1987, finishing fourth with the top three candidates taking office. He was the Maryland co-chairman for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign and served as chairman in Baltimore for the Rev. Jesse Jackson's 1984 presidential campaign.

Mr. Pettit has focused his campaign on the issues of fighting crime, drugs and violence. Addressing the crime problem must be done before anything else, "before we start talking about economic development, before we start talking about employment," he said. "Who's going to come here in the inner city if they can go to the suburbs to have a safer evening of shopping?"

He favors tougher border patrols and interdiction in the countries where drugs originate as ways of preventing them from entering the United States. Although he doesn't support drug legalization, he does believe that addiction should be treated as a public health problem instead of a crime problem. If drug addicts are imprisoned without treatment, "they go right back to the drugs, they go right back to the crime, because there's nothing to clean them up," he said.


Mr. Kaufman is another veteran of numerous campaigns, most recently running last year for the City Council's 4th District. But the 64-year-old activist from Walbrook Junction in West Baltimore said he does not focus on winning. Rather, his motivation is his message and getting that message out to as many people as possible.

"We do not have a democracy and we should," Mr. Kaufman said, the message he hammers home at every candidate forum he attends. "We have a plutocracy, ruled by a few, and more specifically, statistically 1 percent of Americans own over twice as much wealth as 90 percent of all the rest of us put together."

His ultimate goal is to build a political movement based on that 90 percent, he said.

"These are the folk who have to come together, because we all have the same interests, and start running this country for the people and not just for the corporations," Mr. Kaufman said.

That message is one that resonates with many residents of the 7th District and has received a warm reception at the candidate forums.

"He is the man," said Del. Clarence "Tiger" Davis, who is also a candidate for the seat. "Bob has been consistent for the last 31 years that I have known him.

"I think the community knows exactly what he's talking about and he has effectively communicated that and he has done it with great humor," Mr. Davis said.

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