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Campaign Beat

Red on Green

Green Party Candidate Challenges Incumbent City Councilman Kenneth Harris in the 4th District

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It's Not Easy Being Green: Third-party candidate David Greene faces an uphill battle to establish name recognition in incumbent Kenneth Harris' district.

By Anna Ditkoff | Posted 10/6/2004

David Greene answers the door to his house in North Baltimore’s Pen Lucy neighborhood barefoot, wearing his signature red shirt and a black armband. He is a tall, lanky man with a wild beard and an easy laugh. After a tour of the sculpture garden around his home, he leads a reporter inside where the living room is a mess of thought-provoking materials. Books by Ralph Nader and Jim Hightower are piled high on a table alongside tomes on Quakerism and Islam, campaign signs lean against the wall, and a large game called Marble Tag that Greene invented holds a prominent place in the room.

Greene is a man of many ideas. He has been an electrical engineer, a physics teacher, a novelist, a dancing instructor, and now he has added City Council candidate to the list with this year’s run for the 4th District seat on the Green Party ticket.

Greene was born in Boston but has lived in Baltimore since 1957, when he came to Johns Hopkins University as a physics graduate student. After teaching at Towson University for 26 years, Greene retired—but the 69-year-old hasn’t slowed down. He is active in several Quaker organizations, teaches ballroom dancing classes, and is an activist championing human-rights causes and feeding the homeless every Monday outside City Hall.

“I like to say that I don’t do the things I do because I’m running for City Council,” he says. “I’m running for City Council because I do the things I do.”

Though he has no formal political experience, aside from a failed run for City Council president in 1999, Greene is not short on ideas for improving the city. He sees the problems of his own district as analogous to those citywide: drugs, violence, vacant houses, and education. One of his main platforms (shared by local activist and perennial candidate A. Robert Kaufman) is to “take the profits out of drugs.”

“The idea is you make drugs available at either little or no cost in a user-friendly atmosphere, and that destroys the street trade,” Greene says. “And when you destroy the street trade you cut down on all sorts of crime, and you don’t have to rob, steal, and prostitute yourself for your fix.”

He also wants to address the problem of vacant houses in the city. “My particular district is a wonderful district along those lines,” he says. “There are very few vacant houses. But you go down McCabe Avenue, for example, and there are about 25 vacant houses row on row.”

His own home was vacant when he purchased it in 1974, and he bought a vacant building in 1998 on York Road at the corner of McCabe, which he says now houses 30 locally owned businesses. He hopes to make public transportation free, funding it with a tax on cars driving into the city. But he also wishes to lower car insurance by creating a city car-insurance co-op-a measure he says will save car owners $300 a year (another platform point he shares with Kaufman).

Greene admits that some of his the ideas he champions may be technically out of the City Council’s grasp. But he points out that the council can pass resolutions.

“You can pass a resolution and then you publicize that resolution,” Greene says. “You send it to all the major cities in the country. You publicize what you think is right, and you know if it’s right it might possibly catch on. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

But ideas are not all it takes to win an election. Greene is running his campaign on less than $1,000. He has hand-painted signs with verses written on them, like baltimore needs some new pizzazz that’s why question “p” was passed. elect david g.s. greene and our city council is like a girdle. they find some jobs they just can’t hurdle. elect david g.s. greene. (The jingles are based on the infamous Burma Shave ads of the 1920s through the ’60s.) Instead of using lawn signs, Greene has volunteers hold his signs up, and he even has a series of signs explaining his reasoning for that: political lawn signs, a form of pollution. people with signs a better solution. elect david g.s. greene.

But mostly, he is going door to door within his district.

“I would say I have almost a third of the district covered, but it takes so much time because I like to talk to the people and they have concerns,” he says. “People are so receptive. It’s a real pleasure. It doesn’t matter where you go. I’ve had two people, maybe three people, say ‘I’m not interested.’ But almost all of them you could sit all afternoon and talk.”

For all Greene’s enthusiasm and energy, it seems that his challenger, incumbent City Councilman Kenneth Harris (D-3rd), has little to fear. Last year, Harris withstood four challengers in the Democratic primary who ran predominantly on the platform that Harris wasn’t doing his job. He still managed an easy victory with 3,880 votes; his closest competitor, Bill Henry, picked up 1,794. Some critics argue that Harris has done little as a legislator, and is too distracted by his high-paying job as a Comcast executive to pay enough attention to his City Council job. Greene says Harris hasn’t done much beyond “resolutions to thank people for getting to be 80 years old or 90 years old or stuff like that. He’s a very nice person. He wears a suit and I always wear a red shirt, and you can tell us apart because of that.”

Representatives of the numerous community organizations in the new 4th (encompassing much of North Baltimore, including Govans, Homeland, and Northwood) have plenty of praise for Harris. Many call him responsive and praise his commitment to the area. (Harris did not return phone calls from City Paper before press time.)

But when asked for their thoughts on Greene or the other candidate running for the 4th District seat, Republican challenger Armand Girard, they had little information.

“I’m not familiar with them,” says Alice Bevans, the president of the Richnor Springs Neighborhood Association.

“I’m not familiar with either one of them,” echoed William Logan of the Mid-Govans Community Association.

The few who did know of Greene and Girard seem to agree with the sentiments of Millie Jones, president of the Chinquapin Park Improvement Association. “I guess I never thought of that as being a real challenge to Ken,” she says.

Still, Greene is optimistic about his campaign. “It’s going to be mighty close,” he says. “I think of the people that I knocked on the doors I’m going to have very high support. I’m just hoping I can knock on all the doors.”

It seems that Greene still has quite a bit of knocking to do. Girard did not return calls for comment for this story before press time.

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