Henson draws fire for comment

Democratic campaign drops plan to hire him after remark to reporter

Election 2002

September 21, 2002|By David Nitkin and Howard Libit | David Nitkin and Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Julius Henson, the combative Baltimore political operative tapped this week to generate votes for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other Democrats, was abruptly dropped last night after calling Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a Nazi in an interview with a newspaper reporter yesterday.

Speaking to a Washington Post journalist earlier in the day, Henson said: "Bobby Ehrlich is a Nazi. His record is horrible, atrocious. ... He should be running in Germany in 1942, not Maryland in 2002," according to a story published on the newspaper's Web site last night.

He said the Republican nominee for governor was opposed to blacks, schools and old people.

The lieutenant governor's campaign promptly denounced the comments, and later said they were breaking off negotiations to hire Henson to work on a coordinated state Democratic campaign as of last night.

"His remarks to the news media were totally inappropriate and way out of line," said Townsend spokesman Peter Hamm.

"It's totally unacceptable for anyone working for this campaign or associated with this campaign to use such a comment. We do not believe in personal attacks of any kind."

Henson refused to comment on his statement when contacted by The Sun.

Henson was not a member of Townsend's campaign staff, but Democratic officials said he was in the process of being hired by an affiliated group to work on voter mobilization for Townsend and others in Prince George's County.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Henson has used language we will not condone, therefore the coordinated campaign will not be hiring him," said Karen White, manager of the coordinated effort.

His distaste for Ehrlich appears to be newfound: Earlier this summer, the consultant was offering himself to the Timonium congressman, GOP campaign officials said.

"Two months ago, he was in our offices, pitching his services to the Ehrlich-Steele campaign," said Ehrlich spokesman Paul Schurick. "We rejected him. We did not like the terms of the offer."

Ehrlich did not return a telephone call for comment. Ehrlich's running mate, state GOP Chairman Michael S. Steele, who is black, said he was "stunned by Mr. Henson's vitriol."

"Democrats for some time now have resorted to name-calling when the issues - or the polls, for that matter - don't go their way," Steele said. "This is the creme de la creme of the name-calling.

"First [Senate President] Mike Miller called me an Uncle Tom, and [Rep.] Steny Hoyer called me a token. And now their hired gun called Bob Ehrlich a Nazi. It certainly shows a lack of respect not only to a member of the United States Congress, but a lack of respect for a member of the community who has done nothing to warrant someone thinking that, let alone saying it out loud," Steele said.

Townsend, who now narrowly trails Ehrlich in polls, has been working aggressively to solidify the traditional African-American Democratic base in Baltimore and Prince George's County. Henson is African-American.

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, condemned Henson's comments yesterday.

"My own view is that it has no place," Abramson said. "I'm glad to see that the lieutenant governor wants no part of this kind of campaign tactic. It's an unconscionable statement."

Known as one of the most aggressive political consultants in Maryland, Henson has been involved in more than a dozen campaigns this fall.

His hiring for state Democrats was pushed by Rep. Albert Wynn of Prince George's, who said that Henson was a hard-charging mobilizer who could help Townsend and others in the Washington suburbs.

Henson gained particular notoriety during the 1999 Baltimore mayoral campaign, when he worked as a consultant to Lawrence A. Bell III. Henson organized more than 50 chanting, placard-waving Bell supporters to disrupt a rally at the War Memorial in which other prominent politicians were endorsing Martin O'Malley.

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