It's not easy being Green candidate

October 14, 2007|By C. Fraser Smith

Maria Allwine thinks Baltimoreans are hungry for change but too beaten down by generations of Democratic rule to imagine change is possible.

The Green Party's candidate for City Council president presses her case in the face of those who say she's wasting her time contesting the machine.

She goes into the general election campaign with very little on her side. She has no campaign money, rejecting funding from the well-heeled corporate interests as a matter of Green Party principle. Baltimore has even fewer registered Greens than registered Republicans - and Republicans are outnumbered 8- or 9-to-1 by Democrats.

Still, she's challenging that Democratic establishment to show a scintilla of understanding that current approaches to city problems have done nothing to combat crime or to reverse the erosion of Baltimore's quality of life.

She knows that even if she doesn't win, she's one of the few aspects of this campaign that make it a campaign. She's not likely to get much attention from her opponent, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, but she's daring the incumbent to step forward and be accountable for the government that Baltimore has had under Democrats.

A veteran peace activist, Ms. Allwine has run for office before. This time, she says, she's more serious.

In a sense, Ms. Allwine is waging two campaigns at the same time: for an end to the war in Iraq as well as for council president.

The buttons on her green velour jacket one recent morning made clear her displeasure with the Bush administration and the war.

Then there's the one that says, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

That declaration might work in both her endeavors, ending the war and winning the election.

By many accounts, the 54-year-old legal secretary was the star of the primary campaign, offering thoughtful, passionate and detailed answers to questions during candidate forums.

Yet Democratic voters showed in the primary that they're not particularly interested in change. The incumbent council president, Ms. Rawlings-Blake, easily turned back challenger Michael Sarbanes. Many had seen Mr. Sarbanes as the sort of change agent Ms. Allwine aspires to be.

She believes he did not offer enough specific ideas - or sharp enough criticisms - to win over those who are unhappy and looking for new answers.

With no real competition in most of the general election races, there is a virtual vacuum of discussion about critical issues.

"We can't talk education and crime until we talk poverty," she says. "We need a comprehensive job training program that jump-starts the city out of its entrenched poverty."

She would require developers to offer training programs as the price of doing business in the city - particularly, she says, those developers who get tax advantages for local projects.

She would institute a series of audits, imposing accountability and looking for money that could be redirected to things such as community centers for young people.

Ms. Allwine wants a council of neighborhood groups that reflect ordinary people's concerns.

"We have public policy that doesn't reflect public opinion or public need," she says. If government were serious about improving the city, she says, it would come forth with ideas more challenging than a bill banning baggy pants - an idea advanced recently in the City Council.

"Baggy pants? It just shows the utter lack of vision. How are we ever going to change?

"If you don't have the courage to say we need to take another direction, you don't belong in public office," she says.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays in The Sun. His e-mail is fsmith@wypr.org.

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