From push polls and attack ads, to voter id and 'persuasion' calls; the art of political campaigning is something Julius Henson knows well. Having led some of the most controversial and often successful campaigns over the past two decades, Henson – one of the most distinguished and well known political operatives in Maryland – has now chosen to use some of those same tactics for his own campaign.
The longtime democratic kingmaker, who is known to many as the James Carville or Karl Rove of Maryland politics, is now seeking to become the King himself - in Baltimore City's 45th legislative district. Running against an 18-year incumbent, Senator Nathaniel McFadden, Henson is planning to use the same tactics against the McFadden team, that paid him $50k to help orchestrate their successful re-election efforts in 2010. Announcing his run on Friday, on the Frank Conaway Show on WOLB1010AM; Henson shook up the local political world doing something he hasn't done since 1972, run his own campaign for elected office.
The 63-year old campaign strategist who is known for his brash and flamboyant campaign tactics, may be best known to those outside of Maryland politics as the campaign consultant for Governor Robert Ehrlich in the 2010 Maryland Gubernatorial elections, paid to design a robo-call that prosecutors allege was intended to 'suppress the black vote'. Henson was eventually convicted by a jury of his peers in that May 2012 trial of only one count of conspiracy to violate election law by withholding an authority line on that call, which went out to over 100,000 voters in the state's largely urban jurisdictions of Baltimore City and Prince George's County – a stronghold for Henson-run campaigns.
However, the charges bordered on the line of First Amendment violations being made against Henson by the state prosecutor's office; and while Julius was charged with four separate counts of election law violations, the jury barely found him guilty of the one they eventually convicted him of. “If you look at the case overall, and the convoluted instructions given to this 12-member jury; one could make the case that Henson may not have been found guilty at all had Judge Emmanuel Brown not had a hard-on for the defendant,” says independent political analyst, Shaun Louis.
In fact, it was Brown's instructions to the jury that had jurors unsure about whether or not they should find Henson guilty of any of the charges – ultimately finding him guilty of the lesser of the charges. Brown then sentenced Henson to 60-days in jail, a rare and rather harsh sentencing some analysts believed was politically motivated. Larry Gibson, a University of Maryland Law Professor and an old-time political consultant and former adversary of Henson's on many a campaigns, challenged Brown's sentencing and led an effort to 'Free Henson' through rallies and op-eds.
“I am not a friend of Julius Henson. Most often, Mr. Henson and I have been political enemies. I have not seen him or spoken with him for several years. But I wish to express my view that what is happening to him is unjust and a threat to democracy; and it is dangerous to our society, and particularly to minority communities, to begin criminalizing political statements, even those that are false and misleading. I do not agree with Mr. Henson's politics and some of his tactics, but I feel compelled to defend his right to operate in the robust political arena.” ~ Larry Gibson
Now, after 'serving his time to society', Henson is now back with a rejuvenated sense of purpose and told this Examiner that his quest for the State Senate seat in the 45th district is just one part of a three-part plan. “I've known I was going to run for this seat for about 6-months now, and it's about time someone shined a bright light on Senator [Nathaniel] McFadden as being a symbol of what's wrong with politics today,” said Henson, who pointed to the Senator not even living in the East Baltimore district he's been elected to serve.
“Everyone knows he lives in Cross Keys, and he'll sell you out [the constituents] in a heartbeat to the high powered lobbyists [like Bruce Bereano] for a $5 chicken box.”
Now planning to be the representative of the district, instead of representing the representative, Henson plans to use his no-holds-barred style of campaigning - that helped elect half the black political leadership in Baltimore – for his own benefit. And his first stop, President of one of the district's most influential community associations, Eastside Neighborhood Community Association, that encompasses the Berea community and is home to the largest voting precinct in the district (08-010 - Ft. Worthington Elem.).
Challenging the current Vice-President, Ms. Margie F. Brinkley, who is running to replace current President Ms. J. Giles; Henson may face his first election test at the upcoming January 28th election, as Senator McFadden has already wagered his bet with Henson's opponent.
“I've never seen an incumbent Senator send out a Christmas card to the residents endorsing a candidate for a position in a community association before,” as the 45th district senator did only weeks ago, said Louis. “Julius obviously has him shook up, but either way he is suppose to represent both candidates; as they are both district constituents. So I'm not sure the level of representation this community association would get if Henson wins and McFadden continues to play this level of petty politics?”
Which has many area residents shaking their heads as well, as local political activists questioned whether or not the Senator sent the mailer out on material paid for by his campaign, or by his legislative office? “It's a fine line in politics when it comes to campaigning and governing, and the Senator may be just as guilty as Henson was in 2010, showing us now that the residents of the 45th district better be ready for an all-out, nasty brawl for this seat in 2014,” says Louis. Attempts to reach the senator went unanswered, as his staff informed this Examiner this morning that the senator did not want to comment on this article.
Yet Henson certainly wasn't short on words when it came to his former client and future opponent. “This will certainly be the hardest race he'll ever experience, and he certainly can't out campaign me,” says Henson, who says he won't run his own campaign, but would certainly have direct input into those he brings on board to assist in his run. “Over the years I have assisted many young people in learning the ropes of campaigns and understanding how campaigns are won, and now I have to trust them in helping me get to the finish line in 2014,” Henson said on the Conaway show last Friday.
“The man is single-handedly responsible for the success of Comptroller Joan Pratt - who with Julius' assistance in 1995 beat longtime state senator Julian Lapides for the post. He's the reason Congressman Elijah Cummings is in office, not to mention half the city's political machine; so despite what anyone may think or say about Julius, he comes out of the gate with a commanding presence and has a great chance at unseating Senator McFadden,” says Louis, Vice-Chairman of the Independent Movement Political Action Club, and believes that the old political machine in Baltimore is dying off.
“Senator Bill Ferguson proved that in 2010 when he knocked off longtime Senator George Della Jr.; he was President of the Stonewall Democratic Club as McFadden is to EDO today; and he may have been unbeatable during the heydays of the Eastside Democratic Organization (EDO), but that has long passed and people are starving for new leadership all across Baltimore.”
**Also of note regarding the 45th district, longtime state delegate, Delegate Hattie Harrison has been hospitalized for weeks; and her resignation, which seemed likely late last year, has yet to materialize before the start of the session - leaving the district and the city delegation one delegate short. Harrison, a co-founder of EDO, was displaced from the district team during the 2002 campaign, which led to her successful independent run with the theme, 'Throw mama from the train' – a spoof directed at McFadden, who was said to have removed her name from the ticket without her knowledge and despite her continued leadership. (More found on this here)
However, members of the 45th district team had reportedly agreed not to have Harrison on the ticket in 2010, due to her deteriorating health conditions; yet, after the Senator met privately with Bruce Bereano – a high priced and formerly convicted lobbyist – her name was mysteriously placed back onto the ticket. Our prayers go out to the Harrison family, but know that there are a lot of grumblings going on presently regarding a possible replacement for Harrison in the immediate future? More to come on that story as it unfolds...
For more information on this article and more email me here, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, watch episodes of the Reporters' Roundtable w/Hassan Giordano, Join the Independent Movement of Md or browse the communications/political consulting services of GCOMM Media Co.