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The Nose

Green Out

Posted 6/6/2001

Some political movements rise to power only to descend into bickering and infighting. And some movements just go straight to the infighting. So it is that the Maryland Green Party, which pulled a rousing 3 percent vote for Ralph Nader in last year's presidential election, has parted ways with A. Robert Kaufman, founder and leader of Baltimore's City Wide Coalition and gadfly extraordinaire.

The Nose would have thought the grab-bag progressive party a perfect fit for Kaufman, whose résumé of activism makes him the, well, Ralph Nader of Mobtown (if Nader were a high-profile socialist with a penchant for clever publicity stunts). But the Greens and Kaufman have been sparring since last summer, soon after Kaufman joined the party, when a faction of the Baltimore chapter tried to expel him for--according to one Aug. 17 Green Party memo--"the negative effects his presence will likely have on our campaign" and his "mode of working with other people." The expulsion bid failed, but Kaufman was censured and ordered not to publicly associate himself with the party. Kaufman appealed the censure to the state party, which scolded his accusers for acting undemocratically but left the charges intact. The Baltimore chapter, in turn, convened a special meeting May 31 (from which the Nose was politely but firmly barred) to review its previous decision and upheld it, spurring Kaufman to resign.

It's far from the first time Kaufman's been banished from an organization. His list of severed affiliations spans decades and causes: the Congress of Racial Equality, the New Jewish Agenda, the Young Socialists' Alliance, the Committee to End the War in Vietnam, the Central American Solidarity Committee. "They hate me with a passion that passes understanding. If these guys had state power in some place like Chile or Argentina, they would have disappeared me," Kaufman says of his old foes. As for the latest ones, he claims they have been swayed by his pugnacious public image: "I've never worked with any of these people before. This is all on hearsay and assumptions."

The Greens themselves are mum. Party volunteer Mike McGuire and co-chairperson Bia Riaz met with the Nose the day after Kaufman's exit, proffering a copy of Robert's Rules of Order (to show that they'd been procedurally obligated to boot us from the May 31 gathering) and a blanket "no comment." "We're not ousting Bob," Riaz maintains. "He chose to resign from the Green Party. We can't discuss the details of what happened. . . . It's not fair to Bob Kaufman."

Um, OK. But in the abstract, even: How does a confirmed social crusader run afoul of a socially crusading party? "It's very important to our process for everyone to work together," Riaz says, "rather than trying to further your own agenda." That, and a couple of 20-year-old Sun clippings about Kaufman's rift with the New Jewish Agenda, was all they offered.

Kaufman, for his part, isn't doing much grieving. If there's a unifying theme in his tumultuous relationship with the organized Left, it's this: Kaufman goes on; the groups he leaves, generally, do not. "The City Wide Coalition has been around 12 years; Kaufman has been doing the same thing on and off for pretty much 50 years," he says. "Regardless of the organizations, the issues are the same and I'll pursue them."

But he does lament what could have been. "There was the hope that this new formation of relatively new people could actually accomplish something," he says of the Green momentum behind Nader's presidential bid last year. "Here were some new social activists coming to surface, and we wanted to [make the most of] that."

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