Channeling candidates' views directly to voters

One-man production aims to be local C-SPAN

June 21, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Leonard J. Kerpelman hopes to become the C-SPAN of Baltimore's mayoral race.

During the past few months, the former attorney and civic activist has been driving around the city with his video camera taping appearances by city mayoral candidates. The results will air for 13 weeks beginning today on Channel 5 of Baltimore Cable Access Corp.

Kerpelman began the project last fall when his wife, Elinor Hoffman Kerpelman, ran unsuccessfully for state Senate. The two became frustrated that candidates need to raise large amounts of money to reach voters.

The cable channels balked at Kerpelman's initial product because of the roughness of the footage.

But several months later, Kerpelman is back on the Baltimore streets, compiling 15 hours of comments from mayoral candidate.

The intent of the "Inform Yourself" effort, Kerpelman said, is similar to that of C-SPAN, the national channel that shows congressional proceedings.

Viewers can watch mayoral candidates unfiltered by broadcast commentators or reporters.

"It presents easily everyone who wants to appear and shows them naturally," Kerpelman said. "And on his or her own terms with no intercession or moderating."

Kerpelman taped 57 candidates during the state election. Alternative political candidates lacking the campaign backing to purchase television, radio or direct mail ads welcome the taping most.

Last week, Kerpelman held what he hopes will become a weekly event with mayoral candidates at Jimmy's Restaurant on South Broadway.

Candidate Phillip A. Brown Jr., a Northeast Baltimore neighborhood activist, took advantage of Kerpelman's offer to pitch his concerns about the city.

"It gives the candidates who don't get a lot of coverage a chance," Brown said. "It's something little that could grow into something big."

Kerpelman gained fame 36 years ago by successfully taking Madelyn Murray O'Hair's court challenge to school prayer in Baltimore schools to the U.S. Supreme Court, but was disbarred for what was termed unprofessional conduct in two criminal cases a decade ago.

He is hoping to gain another measure of fame with his latest passion. "I hope it becomes an important factor in the upcoming election," he said.

Joining Kerpelman for the videotaped discussion at Jimmy's were Democrats Brown, A. Robert Kaufman and William E. Roberts Sr. Little Italy Republican Roberto Marsili also participated. Kerpelman noted the absence of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former Councilman Carl Stokes, who are considered the front-runners in the city's first mayoral race in 28 years without an incumbent.

Stokes campaign spokeswoman Kelley Ray said he was absent because of a schedule conflict but that she supports Kerpelman's effort.

Jimmy Filipidis, 23, who helps his father, Nick, operate the restaurant, enjoyed the show. "It goes to show you that democracy works," Filipidis said. "And anybody can run."

Pub Date: 6/21/99

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