Bare-knuckle politics

State's attorney: Julius Henson shows he's the man to watch in upcoming race.

September 15, 2001

IN HIS Machiavellian view of politics, Julius Henson shocks. If dirty tricks are needed to destroy an opponent, so be it. Ditto for salacious exposes of human frailties.

"I'm supposed to do you in, out of the gate. That's my job," Mr. Henson commented after his revelations persuaded defense lawyer Warren A. Brown to quit the state's attorney's race just days after announcing his candidacy.

It's very clear what Mr. Henson is trying to do: He wants to create a situation in which his candidate for state's attorney, City Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil, will be a shoo-in. Such a scenario depends to a large part on Mr. Henson's hope that he can persuade the incumbent, Patricia C. Jessamy, not to seek re-election.

We hope strong-arm tactics won't effectively cancel an election that is still about a year away. If Baltimore is to have a well-functioning prosecutor's office, open and contested elections are a must. The candidates must be able to state their strategies for re-energizing the office. Voters need a chance to scrutinize candidates' qualifications and experience.

Mr. Henson believes that Ms. Stancil has the makings of a frontrunner because she is so much like a typical Baltimore voter - an African-American female. But so is Ms. Jessamy.

The question now is what the political power brokers will do. Will state lawmakers find an alternative to Ms. Stancil and Ms. Jessamy? What about Mayor Martin O'Malley? He has been looking for a candidate to back, but at least one of the possibilities, City Solicitor Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr., has said no.

Baltimore has had no real rascals as influential political operators in decades. Now that Mr. Henson is emerging as one, his scare tactics should not be allowed to set the city's agenda.

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