EXPERIENCE CAN'T RESIST ANOTHER TRY

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dr. Aris T. Allen took up a sledge hammer on Forest Drive weeks ago and with a few swings pounded into the earth a sign bearing his chief political asset: his name.

When he'd firmly staked the campaign sign, he straightened up his 6-foot-3 frame and ambled back to his car -- a gray-suited man comfortable with a sledge hammer, who labored with his hands for a living more than 60 years ago. Directly across Forest Drive stood a bigger sign bearing his name: "Allen Apartments," a housing project he helped to build, not with his hands but with political sway.

And that apartment sign begged the question: With all he's already accomplished, what makes Allen run?

After all, Aris Allen will be 80 in December. Here it was a fine autumn afternoon, a perfect day for a man of his station to play some golf, or enjoy the Chesapeake view from his Arundel-on-the-Bay home.

No, said Allen, who is running for a District 30 seat in the House of Delegates, that would not do.

"I could be out on my porch reading, but I wouldn't be happy doing that," said Allen. "First of all, I enjoy (politics). I like being involved. I like seeing things happen. I like to think I've been an influence."

As if he doesn't already own a resume as long as his arm. As if the Aris T. Allen story were not already the stuff of American legend. Having just published a biographical account of his rise from uneducated laborer to medical doctor, delegate, state senator and lieutenant governor candidate --"Achieving the American Dream" -- Allen seeks now to write yet another chapter.

"Howdy-do. I'm Dr. Aris Allen," he says in that soft bass voice, standing at the front door of a home in Broadneck. "I'm a retired physician and I'm running for the House of Delegates. I served in the House of Delegates and now I'm trying to regain my old seat."

Allen is pounding the pavement again, making his rounds this day in a gray suit, white shirt, navy necktie and matching breast-pocket handkerchief. He is dignity personified, even when he folds himself into a white Volkswagen Rabbit crammed with campaign signs and heads out to put up a few signs, shake a few hands.

"I have a list of eight, 10 issues that I'm concerned about," said Allen. He mentions property taxes, affordable housing, education, environmental protection and health care, but does not claim to offer specific programs. "I'm going to put my list in my pocket. What I want to see is my constituents' list. I want to know their problems."

He is quite specific on two points: He favors a woman's right to choose abortion and opposes mandatory retirement ages.

"Elderly people have acquired an awful lot of experience," said Allen.

How could he feel otherwise? He's 79 years old and has a ready answer when asked if his age could affect his ability to perform the duties of a legislator.

"I had anticipated a lot of questions" about that, said Allen, who said he walks and swims regularly and does not smoke or drink. "I have just gone through the most rigorous physical examination" and was pronounced in excellent health. He said he works 12 hours or more a day, now in real estate, and has done so for years. "I enjoy it," he said.

Allen is making his experience and his reputation, not his stands on the issues, the centerpiece of this campaign. In so doing, he hopes to become the first Republican to hold a seat in District 30 since 1974. The last was Allen himself, who was the first Republican to serve the district in 17 years and the first black ever to hold the post.

He served eight years in the House (1966-1974) then lost a bid for the state Senate. Later he served three years in the Senate (1978-1981) when veteran Republican senator Ed Hall died suddenly, apparently of a heart attack. Allen left the Senate in 1981 when the Reagan administration called on him to become a medical affairs adviser to the Health Care Financing Administration.

This year there are theoretically three seats open in District 30 and five candidates: three Democrats, two Republicans. As a practical matter, though, incumbent Democrats John Astle and Michael Busch are heavily favored to win re-election. Allen, fellow Republican Philip Bissett and Democrat Edith Segree are vying for the third seat.

"I'm not running against anybody," said Allen. "Should I win, I have to work with these people. What I'd like to do is go into the legislature and join hands with people who think as I do and have some influence on the course of events."

He said he's putting special emphasis in the campaign on the Broadneck area, which happens to be Segree's home base. Allen's campaign surveys show many Republicans living in the new homes of Broadneck. Among District 30's 52,000 registered voters, Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats 1.5 to 1.

"I'm very glad that he's running," said Mary Rose, who chairs the Anne Arundel County Republican Committee. Allen has "a very general popularity, good name recognition."

The public Allen image, said Leslie Stanton, who is active in the Black Political Forum of Annapolis, is "the elder statesman, someone who knows the ropes. Someone who is politically well-connected."

This is not exactly what the Texas-born Allen had in mind when he moved to Annapolis from Washington in 1945. After going back to school and earning his high school diploma at age 27, Allen entered Howard Medical School in Washington in 1940. He moved to Annapolis to practice medicine.

Allen did not seek politics. Politics reached for him.

He served public office first on the county school board, having been appointed by Gov. Theodor R. McKeldin after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 ruled school segregation unconstitutional.

Former state senator and Anne Arundel County executive Joseph Alton Jr.

was one of those who helped convince Allen to accept the post.

Allen "was a bridge, really," Alton said in a telephone interview. "He did so much to open people's minds and hearts to what was the right thing to do."

Allen was a calm voice in a time of division and anger, Alton said. "He was a man without rancor," Alton said. "He was always a very poised person, a very gentle man."

He carried that style into the House of Delegates and the state Senate.

As a legislator, said former Delegate Jerry Connell of Pasadena, Allen was "low key." Delegate Tyras S. Athey, who has been a member of the House since 1967, said Allen was never "one who pushed himself on people," but was an outspoken proponent for abortion rights in the early 1970s.

As a doctor, Allen -- who practiced medicine with his wife, Dr. Faye Allen, from 1945 to 1982 -- "was a world of information for most of us," on abortion and medical issues, Athey said.

And many voters in Annapolis know Allen as a doctor first, a legislator second. At a senior citizen outing at Truxton Park last month, Estella Wells of Annapolis held Allen's hand and answered with an unqualified yes when asked if she would vote for him. Politics and issues did not seem to enter into it. He is Dr. Allen. For her, that is enough.

"He's my doctor, he's beautiful," Wells said. "Oh yeah, he's the right man."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
62°