WASHINGTON – Robert Kozak left his Frederick home for Houston in May to see his niece’s new baby, but something he didn’t see there made him come back a congressional candidate.
Riding in a family member’s car past a Shell oil refinery, Kozak looked for security personnel and found none.
“It leads one to question, are they really doing all these security procedures just for security procedures, or why are they doing it?” Kozak remembered later in an interview. “And one doesn’t need to read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ to understand that.”
Kozak, 53, president and founder of the Frederick-based biofuels company Atlantic Biomass Conversions, is running as the Green Party candidate opposing Democrat Andrew Duck and seven-term incumbent Republican Roscoe Bartlett in Maryland’s 6th District.
And since Kozak started campaigning, security’s been pretty good. Recently, he was escorted out of a candidate forum in Frederick’s Crestwood Village community because his name wasn’t on the elections board list, and days later he was threatened with arrest for trespassing while handing out fliers at a local football game.
“They say there’s a right to free speech, but where can you actually practice it anymore?” Kozak said.
His platform focuses mainly on developing renewable energy, negotiating withdrawal from Iraq and implementing a single-payer health care system. And he thinks he has a shot in the 6th District, which spans the state’s western panhandle and continues to the Susquehanna River, including parts of Montgomery, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Bartlett is losing constituent support and Democrats have not been strong in the district recently, Kozak said. He said he also believes both his opponents are more aligned with the Bush administration during a period of anti-incumbent popular opinion.
“In a three-way race in a year when it’s ‘throw the bums out’ on both sides, who knows?” he said.
Energy is his pet issue, and it shows in his background. A self-described “child of the ’60s,” he grew up outside Cleveland when Earth Day was first established, cleaning up Lake Eerie became a major issue and the nearby Cuyahoga River was so polluted it caught fire.
Kozak went on to graduate in 1975 from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. After college, he went into the Peace Corps, where he helped revive the fishing industry in Western Samoa before he was kicked out for writing a political letter to the local paper.
Despite his unceremonious departure from the Peace Corps, Kozak said he “enjoyed the hell out of it.”
He joined the Peace Corps for the same reason he is running for Congress now. “It just seemed like here was an opportunity to do something instead of complaining,” he said.
Back in the United States, Kozak volunteered for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign, inspired by Carter’s honesty and commitment to peace. When he met Carter a few times on the campaign trail, his adoration showed.
“My other sister said when she saw me after, ‘It was like you’d met Jesus Christ,'” Kozak said.
After the campaign, Kozak started a career in air quality regulation, working as a consultant on vehicle emissions for companies, state governments and Mexico City.
In 2000, he founded Atlantic Biomass Conversions, where he tries, with research teams at Hood College and the University of Maryland, to produce fuel from plant residues such as sugar beet pulp and orange peels.
Kozak’s skills as a research pioneer would serve him well in Congress, his colleagues say.
“He’s usually juggling a couple things at once,” Hood College biology professor Craig Laufer said. “He’s always enthusiastic, very bubbly. You know, he comes in with an idea and he wants to discuss the idea.”
With close to $5,000 in total receipts, the least funding of the three candidates, Kozak would have had a better chance of election had he run for local office, campaign manager Whitney Trettien said. But she still gives him good odds.
“He’s outside the political speak, and I think that’s refreshing for some people,” she said. “We’re running to win.”
Independents and Republicans who are disillusioned with Bartlett are likely to boost Kozak’s numbers, said his campaign treasurer and longtime partner Joanne Ivancic.
“Since we only need 33 percent plus one, then there’s a chance,” she said.
The couple met through a mutual friend at Carter’s inauguration, but there was a hitch. Ivancic supported Carter’s party rival, the late Morris K. “Mo” Udall, D-Ariz.
“We started our lives together arguing,” she said.
But in the end, politics was no match for love — or music.
“In between these inaugural events, I went to his apartment, and I really liked his record collection, so I knew I wanted to get to know this guy,” Ivancic said. “He had every Buffalo Springfield album that they had made.”
After 27 years living together, she, like all his friends, still calls him “Kozak.”
A shy person, Kozak originally thought he should help another candidate who shared his views instead of campaigning himself, Ivancic said. But the Green Party was mostly looking at local races, and Kozak was frustrated with the other parties’ lack of action on energy issues and Iraq.
The two live in a house in Frederick built 115 years ago, one of several Kozak has restored as a hobby. In his spare time, he also studies the Seven Years’ War, which he likens to Iraq because of the multiple ethnic groups involved, each with their own agenda.
Kozak also likes to race bicycles, a method of transportation he has incorporated on the campaign trail, even though a long scar on his jaw can be attributed to a nasty cycling accident from two years ago.
Kozak picked up biking after he quit windsurfing, which had been a major interest that included coaching and coordination for Olympic teams from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. But eventually it got boring.
He got too tired, he explained, of waiting for the wind to pick up.