As his clients run for office, Henson runs from his past

May 12, 2002|By MICHAEL OLESKER

NO MAN outlives his past, but Julius Henson wants to silence his. It clings to him like a recurring dream. He runs 14 campaigns this political season, but the echoes of the War Memorial confrontation two summers ago, and the Warren Brown revelations last autumn, do not go away.

Last week, his candidate for Baltimore state's attorney, City Councilwoman Lisa Stancil, formally announced she was running. On the television news, the coverage mentioned her ties to Henson, and his ties to the War Memorial and the Brown business. A few weeks ago, his candidate for Congress, Oz Bengur, announced he was running. The newspaper coverage brought up Henson and the same history.

Twice now, on the telephone, Henson has shot back with expletives undeleted.

"When are you gonna let that [bleep] go?" he asked two weeks ago. Then, two days ago, he asked, "When are you gonna let that [bleep] go?"

His tone varied between exasperation and incredulity. He wanted to talk about more recent history. He mentioned a campaign he'd run in another town. His candidate won.

"I put a man in," he said, "who's dumb, who's a liar and lazy. He should be going to prison instead of [political office]. The best people lost. They're smart, and they worked hard, and they still lost to my guy. 'Cause I know what I'm doing. And I've got 14 candidates this cycle, and I'm gonna go 14 and 0 with them."

This is known as having it both ways. In one breath, Henson wants to have his history washed clean; in the next, he's boasting of inflicting a questionable character into the political arena.

Two weeks ago, in a column on Oz Bengur, I said Henson had a tough-guy reputation but desired to put that behind him and be a mainstream player.

His reaction?

"I don't desire the mainstream. I am the mainstream. The establishment ought to join me, 'cause I got all the candidates."

Again, the conflict. Here's a smart, shrewd, tenacious guy with real potential. But potential for what?

Two years ago, Henson rounded up a few dozen street-corner types, paid them each a few bucks and put them on buses to the War Memorial Plaza, where Del. Pete Rawlings was endorsing Martin O'Malley for mayor. They stood inches from Rawlings' face, screaming at him and attempting to drown out his words. It was one of the ugliest moments in modern Baltimore political history, and it set off such community revulsion that it helped propel O'Malley into City Hall.

Henson's response today?

"How long you gonna talk about it? O'Malley won the race, so let it go. Nobody got beat up, nobody got slapped. It wasn't nice, but 300 murders a year aren't nice, either. Let it go."

Eight months ago, attorney Warren A. Brown announced his intention to enter the state's attorney's race. Hours later, he backed out. Henson announced the kind of tawdry details of Brown's life - he had fathered twins with his wife's niece and has had a variety of financial troubles - that are rarely whispered about in polite political circles.

Henson's response today?

"What did I do? ... If it's in the public domain, we use it."

Eight months later, Brown is reportedly considering re-entering the race for state's attorney. Henson says he warned Brown last fall that he knew about his personal problems and would reveal them if he entered the race. He says Brown ignored him, and paid the price for it.

"He had fair warning," Henson says.

Last week, when Stancil announced her candidacy and the old controversies surfaced again, Henson was asked if he would ever again stage a moment like the War Memorial confrontation of two summers ago.

"I'm gonna do whatever's in the law to help my candidate win," he said.

From other political operatives, that simple sentence would sound like the blandest of cliches. From Henson, it carries combativeness that he wears like a badge. It is the reason his candidates are connected to him in media coverage, and why his past is always dug up. He is at once urging us to forget what happened, and issuing veiled warnings that it might happen again.

Thus, an air of edgy expectation clings to him. No one knows what to expect - of Henson or his candidates.

"You beat the hell out of me when you should be sending me roses," he said last week.

Nobody's beating the hell out of him. We're just reporting a history and letting it serve as perspective. Henson created that history - just as he will create the stories (and the history) to come.

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