A. ROBERT Kaufman is a cuss, a nudge, a pain in the neck An avowed Trotskyite and an open admirer of the social system -- but not the political regime -- of Fidel Castro's Cuba, Mr. Kaufman, in the days before the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, might have been considered a threat to national security.
Today he's demoted to mere public nuisance, a leftist boil on the rump of a liberal-moderate-conservative body politic. He is a boil some mainstream local politicians -- Mayor Kurt Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, among others -- might like to see lanced.
What is it about Mr. Kaufman that rouses such ire? For three years he has been the president of CWIC -- the City-Wide Insurance Coalition. The goal of the coalition is to create a publicly owned, non-profit auto insurance cooperative that would reduce car insurance rates for long-suffering city residents now hTC paying two to four times as much as county residents.
A feasibility study completed in August 1991 found that the CWIC plan, if adopted, could save city drivers an estimated $275 each for car insurance. The plan has support across racial, ethnic and class lines. (CWIC membership includes 172 community organizations, the largest coalition ever formed in Baltimore.) City Council members have given verbal support to the plan. Bob Kaufman, like a persistent headache, is quite strident about reminding city leaders that they have dragged their feet on this issue for three years. He feels it's time for them to stand and deliver.
The major bone of contention between Mr. Kaufman and city politicians is Mayor Schmoke's insistence that CWIC raise $60,000 for a research and development study of the proposed insurance company. The mayor stipulated that CWIC had to pay half the money by Dec. 31 and the other half by the spring. The money would be in addition to $50,000 already donated by the mayor's office, which would donate another $50,000 after CWIC raises its share, for the total research and development cost of $160,000.
Mr. Kaufman, wet blanket that he is, feels it should be no problem for the mayor to fund the full cost of the research and development study. He feels City Council members have not pressured the mayor enough to do so. He arose after a speech by 6th District Councilman Melvin Stukes on Nov. 16 to say as much, and got tossed out by order of Ms. Clarke for his audacity. Later, Mr. Stukes told Sun reporter Michael Fletcher that "Bob has steadfastly refused to raise money." Councilman Martin O'Malley of the 3rd District complained that "Bob just wouldn't ease up" on the car insurance issue.
But according to Mr. Kaufman, Mr. Stukes was being deliberately dishonest in his statement. CWIC raised $26,000 for the feasibility study completed in August 1991, in what was the first of several hurdles placed in CWIC's path by the mayor. Neither Mr. Stukes nor Mr. O'Malley mentioned that they and several other council members requested that Mr. Kaufman resign as president of CWIC. "The mayor doesn't like you," Mr. Kaufman says he was told, "and several other council members don't like you either."
The displeasure of the mayor and City Council is quite understandable. Mr. Kaufman admits he is a "tough negotiator," which probably doesn't sit well with city politicians. Every now and again these leaders need a Bob Kaufman to light a fire under their butts.
Mr. Kaufman feels the City Council hasn't done its job in getting the mayor to fund the research and development study. He's not alone. Peter Bramble, writing in the Baltimore Times, wondered why Mr. Schmoke gave $300,000 to the Greater Baltimore Committee, "made up of the wealthiest businesses in Baltimore who could underwrite their own expenses," while he wants CWIC to come up with $60,000 needed for the insurance study.
It's a question Bob Kaufman and others will be asking the mayor on Jan. 18 at the Baltimore Convention Center, when Mr. Schmoke will host a pre-inauguration bash for mayors from across the nation.
"Then we'll move on to the City Council meeting on Jan. 25,"
says Mr. Kaufman.
One of the purposes of the pre-inauguration gala, according to the mayor, is "to promote Baltimore as a place to live." He'd better hope none of the mayors asks about car insurance rates.
Gregory P. Kane writes from Baltimore.