PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

Diogenes’ Quest Continues, Alas

by A. Robert Kaufman
     The City Wide Coalition wants the Board of Estimates (which is code for “the Mayor”) to approve a $250,000 loan and sign a $9 million bond to create a non-profit co-op to provide auto and home insurance at cost throughout the State and to be owned by its policy holders.
     Like Diogenes in ancient Greece, who, with his lantern, went searching for an honest man--in broad daylight, the City Wide Coalition is searching for an honest Mayor.
     For more than ten years we have been urging our Mayor and City Council to create this insurance cooperative.
     Despite unreasonably lengthy delays and outright sabotage on the part of the Mayor and City Council, studies costing over $150,000, largely city-financed, concluded that we could save over 20% on auto insurance alone in Baltimore during the very first year of operation.
     There is no reason why we could not, within a few short years, reduce Baltimore City vehicle insurance to below County rates.
     We could be saving Baltimore vehicle owning households anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars every year for the rest of our lives. This, at the same time, would eliminate one important reason for people deciding not to live in Baltimore. The City tax base would rise. Residents of the rest of the State would have good reason to be grateful to Baltimore for having their own auto and home insurance reduced, and Baltimore would serve as a shining example for the rest of the country to emulate.
     Of course for every hundred or thousand dollars drivers or homeowners save on insurance, there is an insurance company which would lose profits. The insurance industry represents the largest accumulation of private capital in the world. They figure that if they were to allow Baltimore drivers to self-insure, what next?!! Would this not lead to the creation of non-profit federal health insurance for all? (Such a healthy citizenry could spell catastrophe for the “God forbid” boys.)
     Conclusion: they, the for-profit insurance industry, don’t want the people of Baltimore to self-insure.
      What would it cost to create such a non-profit Insurance Co-op?
     A total cost outlay of a $250,000 loan is all that is needed to set up the operation. Even this relatively small amount would probably be repaid within the first year of operation as polices are sold.
     In addition, all insurance companies in Maryland must provide a $9 million bond as a pledge against catastrophic claims. Baltimore City could probably satisfy this requirement without even having to divert any real funds; the guarantee could take little more than a stroke of a pen!
     Compare this with the estimated $50 million to $80 million the Mayor and City Council will be giving to high-rolling political contributor John Peterakis to build a luxury hotel for the rich.
     When Mayor Kurt L. Smoke was elected, he pledged to faithfully serve the interests of the citizens of Baltimore.
     He has lied. By simply doing nothing at all with respect to the City Wide Coalition’s insurance initiative, he faithfully serves the interests, not of the voters who pay his generous salary and benefits, but of the insurance industry and their ilk who help finance his election campaigns.
     For all these years, in vain, we’ve been looking for an honest Mayor to serve the people--not the insurance industry.
     How much longer must we look?
     Well, the City Wide Coalition wanted to find out. We asked to be put on the agenda of the September 23, 1998 Board of Estimates meeting in order to publicly ask the Mayor to loan $250,000 and guarantee the $9 million bond to establish the non-profit co-op to provide Baltimoreans and Marylanders with auto and home insurance at cost.
     We were turned down by Joan Pratt’s Comptroller’s Office because, “we had already done that.”
     “Absolute nonsense,” we replied and requested a reconsideration. That was the last we heard from the Comptroller’s office.
     I went anyway--dressed as Diogenes with a lantern--looking for an honest mayor.
     We didn’t find one, but Board Chair Lawrence Bell, announced that the Board had at the last moment reversed itself and was willing to hear our position--after the written agenda itself was dispensed with.
     After our brief presentation the meeting was adjourned--without any reply to our request. Most of the media was in attendance; but none printed or televised a word of our efforts to save our fellow citizens hundreds of dollars in insurance cost.
     On September 28, 1998 we attempted to attend the first City Council meeting of the season.
     Before the meeting started, while folks were milling around, I donned my Diogenes outfit to confront individual council members.
     Council President Bell just sat benignly and turned away. I insisted on a reply. He ordered a burley cop to literally push me out of the council chamber and pushed me out of the anteroom.
      At this point I went limp and refused to cooperate with the violation of my Fourth Amendment right to proudly petition government.
     Ignored by the rest of the media, I was, however, able to give a full report to The Sun reporter.
     Why wouldn’t he report on our Board of Estimate efforts five days earlier?
     He wanted to, he said, but “my editor” said that they had “already written enough on insurance.”
     Next day--The Sun report consisted of two inches at the end of an article (already reported the previous day)--much of which was irrelevant.
     The mass media has good reason to keep Baltimore drivers in the dark so that they will not demand that their elected officials represent them.
     Anyone who wants to help on this project or wishes a spokesperson for your group, call me at 410-728-8611.


The City Wide Coalition, 2001 N. Hilton Street Baltimore, MD 21216 ; (410) 728-8611


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This story was published on Oct. 7, 1998.