Leaders form new city political group


A group of local leaders led by a controversial campaign strategist launched a new organization yesterday aimed at supporting political candidates, assisting urban entrepreneurs and spurring debate on public education.

In its state incorporation filings, Metro Political Organization Inc. describes itself as a "political pressure group" that will "support candidates for elected offices."

But the city-based group, led by political consultant Julius C. Henson and Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr., issued a news release yesterday expressing goals "to promote public service and enlighten public policy to encourage positive change in the areas of politics, economics, education and multicultural opportunities."

"People will think at first blush it is a political organization, but we're going to do many more things than just politics," said Conaway, the group's chairman. "We will be speaking out on issues, and we will be demonstrating from time to time."

Henson, who will serve as the group's president, could not be reached for comment yesterday. The statement called him a veteran Maryland political strategist with a "91 percent win rate" over the past 11 years in more than 80 political races.

Henson began his career in 1995 by orchestrating an underdog victory that sent accountant Joan M. Pratt to City Hall as Baltimore comptroller. In the September 2002 Maryland Democratic primary, 20 candidates employed his consulting services, and 15 of them won.

He is known for a bare-knuckled style. In 1999 he led a disruption of an endorsement announcement for Mayor Martin O'Malley. He forced lawyer Warren Brown from the city state's attorney race in 2002 by digging up allegedly damaging information. And while working with Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002, he once called then-gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a Nazi.

"Julius is controversial," said Dennis T. Byrne, a Hampden and Wyman Park activist and board member of the group. But Byrne said Henson's outspokenness on a variety of issues would benefit the group.

"He goes across most segments of the community - the rich, the poor, black and white, Democrats and Republicans," he said.

Conaway said the group will assist, for free, promising community leaders who want to attain elected office or start a business but who do not know how to achieve their goals. The group will also aim to build business relationships between Korean and black entrepreneurs and will provide advice on campaign management.

Other board members include lawyer and failed City Council candidate Melvin A. Bilal, funeral director Carlton C. Douglass, former state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, former Del. Kenneth L. Webster and businessmen Steve Hiken and Ben Hur.

Matthew Crenson, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins University, said Henson might be shrewdly positioning himself to wield considerable sway in 2007 city elections, when several City Hall openings might occur if O'Malley moves to Annapolis.

Henson's "starting early," Crenson said. "If [Metro Political Organization] can put together a real club with a grass-roots constituency, they would exercise enormous influence in a period of instability that could follow the departure of O'Malley, if he does indeed depart."


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