A. ROBERT Kaufman -- Baltimore's Diogenes, ubiquitous activist and recent mayoral candidate -- briefly turned into the mythic Cassandra about three weeks ago and predicted his political future.
"The polls show that I'm not going to be your next mayor," Kaufman said over the phone. "It hurts me to break it to you this way."
Yesterday, Kaufman was on the phone again, talking about last week's election results. He polled a meager 233 votes. The man is disappointed, but the sense of humor is intact.
"I'm surviving very well now that the grief is over," quipped the ever resilient Kaufman. He'll rebound, as he usually does. But will Baltimore?
For the first time in years, Baltimoreans had not only a wealth of candidates to consider for mayor of their city, but they had a wealth of ideas to ponder as well. Kaufman was the only mayoral candidate who offered anything remotely approaching an original idea. He had six of them, all for the most part ignored by the major candidates and the media. But let's look at the ideas that Baltimoreans, by their vote last week, decided aren't worth considering.
1. Take the profits out of drugs: Kaufman has urged, for years, that government treat the drug problem as a health problem. Sell drugs to addicts at a cost so low that they won't have to steal for their fixes, Kaufman proposed. Then give them treatment. The benefits are the treatment and the relief on the courts because most crimes are drug-related. We, by our votes, rejected this proposal as too radical. But Democratic candidate Martin O'Malley's idea of closing open-air drug markets has been tried and found wanting.
2. Legalize prostitution: "They had just arrested a handful of johns and prostitutes," Kaufman said of the day he got the idea. "What a horrible thing to do to people who had done no harm to anybody."
Kaufman emphasized that prostitution is a social ill linked to the drug crisis because most prostitutes are tricking for drug money. He favors Baltimore adopting the red-light districts found in some European countries, where prostitutes are examined by doctors and "the venereal disease rate is way down at the bottom," as opposed to Baltimore's soaring rate.
"If you don't want prostitutes in front of your house," Kaufman warned, "you'd better damn well decide where you do want them because they're going to be here."
3. Establish low-cost car insurance for city dwellers: Kaufman said city officials know it can be done and simply won't do it. But maybe Baltimoreans deserve high insurance rates. They weren't an issue for any mayoral candidate except Kaufman, and voters didn't press the issue.
4. Lower the voting age to 16: "There's no magical age," Kaufman said of when people should be allowed to vote. He believes giving 16-year-olds the vote might give high school students more incentive to learn how local government operates and schools incentive to teach it.
5. Democratize the school board: "The school board should be run by those most concerned with education," Kaufman said. "Teachers are powerless, as are parents. Students never had power." Kaufman wants a school board composed of folks elected from the ranks of PTAs, the teachers union, students and office, maintenance and support staff.
"Then you have a democratic process," Kaufman concluded, "and none of these problems can be solved without a democratic process."
6. Enfranchise convicted felons: "If you agree with the slaveocracy after the fall of Reconstruction that the most important thing is to keep blacks from voting, you're for not giving felons the right to vote," Kaufman said, adding that many of today's convicts, especially those who have converted to Islam, are very astute and politically aware. Their voting would be "a huge asset" to the democratic process.
With a sweep of our collective hand, we decided none of these ideas -- albeit controversial -- was worth discussing. But the democratic process relies on the discussion of such ideas. Kaufman had no chance of being elected. But he brought to the race ideas that every voter should have put to the "mainstream" candidates. We can dismiss Kaufman as a left-wing crackpot if we like. But we had better keep in mind one fact: Sometimes it's the mainstream politicians who have gotten us in the mess we're in.
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Pub Date: 09/22/99