Lack of an invite invites rancor

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. is wondering whether his invitation to attend BUILD's mayoral forum Sunday got lost in the mail. A. Robert Kaufman, the feisty Trotskyist who has run for just about everything in this town, is wondering the same thing.

Conaway and Kaufman are candidates for mayor, but apparently not considered worthy enough by the folks at BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) to be included in a forum of mayoral candidates. Andrey Bundley, who had the guts to run against then-Mayor Martin O'Malley in 2003, was at BUILD's forum. So was current Mayor Sheila Dixon. Del. Jill Carter and Councilman Keiffer Mitchell have their eyes on the mayor's office and also made the BUILD cut.

Not so with Conaway and Kaufman. So what goes on here?

Conaway has his suspects, and it involves those old bosom buddies, hanky and panky.

"It doesn't pass the smell test," Conaway said Monday. "It stinks to high heaven. There's something rotten at BUILD."

Kaufman said he'd have barged into the forum and taken a place on the stage, but he only learned about the event after it happened.

"Had I known about it," Kaufman said, "I certainly would have gone. I would have gone up on the platform and demanded to be treated as an equal."

BUILD spokesman Rob English said that it wasn't a case of equality, just which mayoral candidates filed "firstest with the mostest," as the saying goes.

"We invited those mayoral candidates who had filed and the incumbent," English said, adding that the term "forum" was inaccurate.

"This was a BUILD accountability session with candidates so they could respond directly to BUILD's agenda," English said. "Once they've filed, we'll be happy to meet with Mr. Conaway and Mr. Kaufman."

Conaway's response?

"He's a liar. His feet stink. And he doesn't love his Jesus. And you can print that."

Don't you love the smell of a rancorous campaign heating up in the morning?

Three candidates for City Council president - Councilman Kenneth Harris, Michael Sarbanes and incumbent Stephanie Rawlings-Blake - were also at the forum. Er, excuse me, make that the "accountability session." But none of them had filed as of Sunday night. English said a different criterion was used for Harris, Sarbanes and Rawlings-Blake: All had made "major announcements" about their intention to run for City Council president.

It is here where the folks at BUILD might run into a bit of a problem. While it's true, some might argue, that it was BUILD's accountability session and that members could have invited Howard the Duck if they so chose, it's also true that Conaway's saying he intends to run for mayor constitutes a "major announcement."

The man is a former state delegate. He's the clerk of the Circuit Court. He came in third to Dixon in the 1999 race for City Council president. And, Conaway reminds people, he got 115,000 votes when he was re-elected last year.

Besides, the BUILD flier posted on the organization's Web site about the forum/accountability session/insert-whatever-you- want-to-call-it reads, "Please join BUILD as we call on Mayoral candidates and the candidates running for City Council President to Endorse the BUILD Agenda!"

It doesn't say "mayoral candidates who have filed." It says "mayoral candidates." Conaway and Kaufman are mayoral candidates.

According to the Web site flier, BUILD has four points in its 2007 agenda: to "create 30 fully funded, fully staffed flagship recreation centers"; to "work with corporate leaders to double the number of summer employment jobs for youth"; to "provide an additional 2,000 young people [with] after school opportunities"; and to "fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund."

"Obviously we need more recreation centers, and obviously I'd be in favor of that," Conaway said. He fully supports the other three points of BUILD's 2007 agenda as well, but cautioned, "I'm not doing it because BUILD wants it done. I'm doing it because I think it's the right thing to do."

Kaufman said he has supported things akin to BUILD's 2007 agenda for years, and he has even bothered to think about where tax revenue will come from to fund the noble, well-intended but ultimately expensive objectives.

"We should tax those who can most afford it," Kaufman said. "We should abolish all residential property taxes and replace them with a progressive income tax. That should be supplemented with a progressive commuter tax for people who work in Baltimore and live in the counties."

If that sounds like a socialist agenda that might lead to government officials conducting wholesale raids on the wallets of taxpayers, that's because that's just what it is. But that's why I like Kaufman.

He's one of the few candidates who tells taxpayers upfront that they're about to be hosed.


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