Odds don't deter Allwine candidacy

The Baltimore Sun

She stands on street corners in a black robe portraying the notorious image from Abu Ghraib and has been arrested so many times for nonviolent protests that she has lost count, but Maria Allwine does not easily give in -- even when her goal seems impossible.

After years of protesting the Iraq war, rallying against corporate interests and assailing what she says is a corrupt city government, Allwine is attempting a different approach to effect change. She is running for City Council president in Tuesday's general election as a Green Party candidate.

Despite long odds faced by any political candidate who dares to run against a Democrat in Baltimore, Allwine, 54, is approaching her campaign with the same zeal that has marked her advocacy. She shakes hands at farmers' markets, runs radio commercials and, whenever she can, makes her pitch for why the city must change.

"When I go out and talk to people one on one I get an overwhelmingly positive response," said Allwine, who lives in the Hamilton neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore. "A lot of people know they're being shafted by city government and that the Democratic machine does not serve them."

Allwine is running to unseat Democrat Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who currently holds the job and who defeated community activist Michael Sarbanes and two other candidates in the Sept. 11 primary.

The only other non-Democrat making a citywide run in the general election is Republican Elbert R. Henderson, who is running for mayor.

A legal secretary and Baltimore native, Allwine is acutely aware that she is running an underdog campaign. Nearly 80 percent of the city's voters are registered Democrats, compared with less than one-half of 1 percent who are registered Greens. The last non-Democratic candidate elected to the City Council was Daniel Ellison -- in 1939.

Allwine, meanwhile, had less than $100 in her campaign war chest, compared with Rawlings-Blake, who had about $100,000, according to campaign finance reports they filed with the state in August.

But Allwine believes that enough city residents are fed up with politics this year to throw a switch for someone else. She discusses substantive issues -- offering a more robust platform than many of the Democrats who ran for mayor in September. And though she might scoff at the suggestion, she has the charm of a veteran politician.

Creating jobs for city residents is her top priority, she said. She wants to set up a city-funded Works Progress Administration -style jobs program -- in which residents would work construction and other public works and transportation jobs. And she believes the city should stop giving property-tax breaks to developers and instead demand that local businesses employ city residents.

She has argued for strict campaign finance laws to prohibit candidates from taking donations and then handing out city contracts to those contributors. She wants to use the city's energy tax to create an alternative energy program.

Asked how she would pay for the jobs program -- similar to one proposed by A. Robert Kaufman, a socialist who ran for mayor this year -- she said she would look for efficiencies in city government, though it is unlikely that would come close to covering the cost.

Rawlings-Blake ran a campaign in the primary that emphasized her accomplishments since becoming president in January. She created a separate council committee to focus on education, earmarked additional money for homeowner restoration and was among the first city officials to bring attention to recruitment problems in the Police Department.

A spokesman said in a statement that Rawlings-Blake "looks forward to November 6, and hopes the people of Baltimore will vote as they did on September 11 for a vision for the future and the experience to deliver."

The City Council president, who is elected citywide, will receive a $98,000 salary next year.

Allwine is used to running against the odds -- or at least to fighting for a cause that seems impossible. She said she has been arrested more than 10 times in her effort to stop the war in Iraq.

Most recently, she was arrested along with other members of a group called the Pledge of Resistance of Baltimore as she took place in a "die-in" in the Crypt of the U.S. Capitol.

"We have no illusions that we're going to make any great change," said Max Obuszewski, a friend who is active in the anti-war group and Allwine's campaign. "We don't have that illusion, but we know we have to do it. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I wasn't speaking out against all this injustice. Maria comes from that same seed."

Allwine, who said she has not owned a television in a decade, had not been particularly political for most of her life. That changed when George W. Bush won the presidential election in 2000 -- stole, in her words -- and she grew increasingly wary of government as the administration began talking about war after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Allwine captured 24,816 votes when she ran against U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski in 2004 -- among the largest vote count ever received by a Green anywhere in the country, but still only 1 percent of the vote. She ran an unsuccessful campaign against Joan Carter Conway for state Senate last year.

Allwine's mother was a public health nurse, and her father worked for Cat's Paw Rubber Co. when it was located in Baltimore. She described her mother as a conservative ("I've not given up trying to convince her that she's just on the wrong side of things," Allwine said), and her father is more liberal. She is married and has a daughter.

"Did we talk about politics? Yes we do," said her mother, Rosalie Rychwalski, who lives in Florida. "I would prefer if she did not get arrested, but I have no control over it. She deeply believes in what she is doing, ... and I know that she cares about people."


Maria Allwine

Born: April 10, 1953

Job: Legal secretary

Education: Maryvale Preparatory School, 1971; attended Texas Christian Academy.

Personal: Married, one daughter.

Contact: www.takebackbge.org; maria@takebackbge.org

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