For Kaufman, a world of trouble

Perennial Socialist candidate is attacked by a tenant again

December 08, 2006|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,sun reporter

A web of misfortune seems only to deepen for Baltimore's best-known Socialist, A. Robert Kaufman.

The perennial candidate - who has never won an election - was nearly knifed to death last year by a tenant in his West Baltimore boarding house, and suffered kidney failure as a result of the injuries. Since then, he hasn't been shy about asking just about anyone - even his imprisoned attacker - for a kidney that might turn around his health.

And now, like deja vu, he's been attacked again, by another tenant.

Returning home from his thrice-weekly dialysis treatment, Kaufman was struck in the head with a brick and robbed of about $200 Wednesday night by a man renting a room in the three-story Walbrook Junction Victorian, according to Kaufman and police.

Kaufman said he had picked up some Indian food at a carryout and walked up the steps leading to his porch. A man and woman idling there cleared the way for him, while another man held open the door, he said.

"He was holding the door for me as I was coming in from dialysis," Kaufman said. "The next thing I knew he hit me in the head with a brick."

The assailant - whose name is Stephen, Kaufman thinks - was being sought by police.

Kaufman, meanwhile, is recovering at home after a visit to the hospital that got him 14 stitches above the right eye.

It was the latest injustice bestowed upon a champion for the poor and downtrodden, whose social - and Socialist - conscience, and admittedly a need for some extra cash, have buoyed him to open his home to about a dozen boarders - almost all of whom are recovering drug addicts, he says.

"If we didn't have this hypocritical war on drugs ... none of this would have happened," he said shortly after Wednesday night's attack. "Either now, or a year and a half ago."

In June 2005, Kaufman was whacked over the head with a crowbar, stabbed and beaten by then-tenant Henry Leon Davis in a dispute over rent. Kaufman underwent four surgeries and now needs a kidney transplant.

Davis, who was arrested at a halfway house days later, pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree murder and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

It was not a sentence Kaufman necessarily approved of, as his political leanings shadow his opinion of prisons - places, he said, that have poor educational systems. However he used his victim status as a means to advance his latest candidacy, running at the time for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate - holding a news conference after his release from the hospital, and saying, "Quite frankly, this will probably help my career."

In truth, nothing has helped Kaufman's political career. He has run for office about a dozen times by his count - for City Council, mayor, governor, U.S. president and, most recently, the Senate - and lost every time.

If his political positions are out of the mainstream, his needs clearly are not - like the "bread and butter," as Kaufman calls the relatively inexpensive rents that his tenants pay. Kaufman lives on the second floor, and a mix of men and women who pay anywhere from $300 to $500 a month for a room occupy the basement and other floors of the house.

A lot of times, Kaufman says, they just don't pay.

"Some of them do, some of them don't," Kaufman said. "It's not something I like to deal with and it's not something I'm very good at."

It has also been a risky proposition, in a tough neighborhood.

In July, Kaufman called the police about three homeless men loitering on his property. One of them, Antoine Oliver, 22, had been charged in a warrant with murder, assault, theft, burglary, armed robbery, conspiracy and handgun violations in the May 13 killing of 36-year-old Justice T. Georgie, who was visiting his wife at her Walbrook salon when it was robbed.

"We know that he has boarders that stay at his house and, from time to time, they're a problem," said Nicole Monroe, a spokeswoman for the city Police Department. "It's not Mr. Kaufman's fault that he has boarders. He has every right to have boarders. He can't control what they do. He can't control that somebody may try to take advantage of him.

"We've spoken to him about different things he can do to keep himself safe, but ultimately it's not our job to discourage his philanthropy - if you will," Monroe said.

Kaufman said he recognized his latest assailant as a man he had hired to do odd jobs, and had been staying in a basement room in his house for a couple of weeks. He had fired him about a week ago after receiving a call from Wachovia bank claiming the man attempted to cash one of Kaufman's checks, he said.

When he was attacked last year, Kaufman vowed he wouldn't allow himself to be victimized again and took to sleeping with a knife at his bedside. Now he's thinking of leaving the goodwill to someone else.

"I gotta move out of here," he said. "I can't trust this situation."

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