By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun
2:58 PM EDT, July 2, 2011
As the saying goes: I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.
We may have to start wearing face masks to City Council meetings. You might have seen this week that Tom Kiefaber, the combative former owner of the Senator movie theater, announced he planned to run for City Council president.
It was quite a delightful announcement, actually, evoking everything from "Star Wars" to toilet bowls, not the usual pallid fare you tend to get whether someone is running for student council or the presidency. It reminded me of how witty Kiefaber can be, even when he's also being obsessive and aggrieved, which is his usual state when it comes to the loss of his beloved theater.
A poll-driven, consultant-packaged politician he surely isn't, and that should liven up the city election season — or at least provide a pretty good ongoing game of movie-reference trivia.
In the past couple of weeks since he's gotten back in the news, Kiefaber has been dropping the kind of pop culture allusions you don't normally hear at City Hall: A couple of weeks ago, after he disrupted a City Council meeting by rushing up to the dais, he called a power broker in town "Baltimort," as in our very own version of the Harry Potter villain Voldemort. Then at his campaign announcement on Thursday, he called the office he's seeking the "ventilation shaft on the Death Star."
"I think he sees himself as some kind of Jedi knight," his brother, Mark, told me, making his own "Star Wars" analogy. "He sees himself as a force for good, and there's a lot of dark around, and he can shed light on it."
Perhaps all the cinematic references are an inevitable legacy. For those of you coming late to the show, the Senator, the city's last grand movie palace, had been in the Kiefaber family for years, with Tom at its helm until a couple of years ago. Financial problems led to foreclosure, and the city took over the theater and ultimately contracted with Buzz and Katherine Cusack, of the Charles theater, to operate it.
Losing the Senator was understandably a wrenching and drawn-out affair, and Kiefaber hasn't exactly let go and moved on. He disrupted one meeting last year, of the Board of Estimates, when it granted the Cusacks the rights to run the Senator, and then the June 20 council meeting at which members discussed a landmark designation for the Senator's interior.
Then there was Wednesday's Board of Estimates meeting, which Kiefaber was asked to leave for some reason — even though he was just sitting there, as any member of the public is allowed to do at, um, a public meeting. But you never know what Kiefaber is going to do, so not making a stink when he legitimately could have made one is about par for the course. Kiefaber said he agreed to go for the police officer who asked him to leave, Penny Sprinkle. (Maybe I just have movies on the brain right now, but shouldn't she be in a John Waters film?)
Shortly thereafter, Kiefaber let it be known he wanted to be City Council president, which makes some sense in a can't-beat-'em, might as well join-'em kind of way. Even before he's filed for the office — Kiefaber said he'll submit the paperwork on Tuesday — it's already shaping up as quite an unusual campaign.
Unlike conventional politicians who start off by trying to curry favor with voters and the news media, Kiefaber has taken a different tack: He's already gotten into tiffs with reporters and online commenters on The Baltimore Sun's website.
From what he's said recently, Kiefaber will apparently be running as someone bucking the current power structure. Maybe he envisions his run as the stuff of movies. I'm just not sure which movie we could be watching this summer.
Will it be "Mr. Kiefaber goes to City Hall," in which an idealistic outsider takes on corrupt institutions?
Or will it be "Senator Wars: The Owner Strikes Back," yet another sequel to an endless battle with the dark side?
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