Laura Vozzella: Putting their 'Nazi' past behind them

Political operative Julius Henson finds work with Bob Ehrlich

August 04, 2010|By Laura Vozzella, The Baltimore Sun

The first time Bob Ehrlich ran for governor, Baltimore political operative Julius Henson called him a Nazi. This time around, Henson just calls him boss.

Henson, who lost his job as a Democratic campaign mobilizer in 2002 over the Nazi remark, is working as a political consultant to Ehrlich's campaign, Henson and the campaign confirmed to me this week.

"I'm going to be doing some work for Ehrlich, yes," Henson said. "I've already begun consulting."

I asked Henson how he squared that gig with his comments eight years ago. Back then, Henson told The Washington Post: "Bobby Ehrlich is a Nazi. His record is horrible, atrocious. ... He should be running in Germany in 1942, not Maryland in 2002." He told the paper that Ehrlich was against "blacks, schools and old people."

"I did say that, but also, it was in context," Henson told me. "The context was, I thought his policies — I disagreed with them and said so. Since that time, if you look at his record, many things — small business — many things I care about in the African-American community, Governor Ehrlich's been pretty right on."

"To his credit, we had a different public policy view," Henson said. "It was not personal. He's a big enough man to have me work for him, and I'm a big enough man to work for him."

Henson had a bad-boy reputation long before the Nazi remark. He shouted down speakers to disrupt an endorsement rally when Martin O'Malley first ran for mayor, and called state Sen. Joan Carter Conway a "pseudo-Negro" because she'd backed O'Malley's mayoral bid. He forced a candidate for city state's attorney to withdraw from the race after digging up information about alleged extramarital affairs.

Such was Henson's reputation that the Ehrlich campaign turned him down when he peddled his services to it eight years ago, before the Nazi bit.

"His brand of politics is one we have no interest in," top Ehrlich aide Paul Schurick said back then.

(After the Ehrlich campaign turned him down in 2002, Henson wound up working to mobilize voters for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and other Democrats — until his Nazi remark got him canned.)

Ehrlich spokesman Andy Barth said former Governor Ehrlich is letting bygones be bygones.

"Well, sometimes in life, things get said that you later reconsider and change your mind," Barth said.

Henson said he couldn't recall if he'd approached Ehrlich or if Ehrlich approached him this time around.

"I'm aware of his work," Henson said. "He's aware of my work."

Everywoman and the surgeon on speed dial

After the stabbing death of a young Hopkins researcher in Charles Village, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake agreed to talk to The Sun about the time eight years ago when her brother was gravely wounded in a stabbing.

In a city freshly rattled by violent crime, it might have been smart politics for a mayor to let people know she'd been personally affected by it.

Except for this part: The mayor recalled in the interview that when things looked dire for her brother, Wendell Rawlings, her powerful politician-dad pulled strings to get him moved from Sinai Hospital to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"Delegate [Pete] Rawlings called Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, who rode an ambulance to Sinai to pick up Wendell Rawlings," The Sun's Julie Scharper wrote.

I can't blame the late delegate for pulling any string he could to save his son. What parent wouldn't?

But was it smart for the mayor to offer up that tidbit — that her dad had one of the world's greatest trauma surgeons on speed dial, and that the doc was willing to hop into an ambulance on his behalf — in the context of an interview meant to show that she'd been touched by violent crime, just like so many ordinary Baltimoreans? Kinda undercuts the everywoman theme, doesn't it?

I bounced that off attorney Warren Brown, a reliably colorful observer of Baltimore crime and politics. Turns out, he represented one of the guys charged in the matter, but only until he got the case transferred to juvenile court. ("I don't mess around with juvenile court," Brown said. "It's a mess down there.") So Brown is not exactly a disinterested observer, but I still wanted his take.

He had no issue with what Pete Rawlings did for Wendell. "I'd do the same thing, no question about that," Brown said. But when it came to the mayor's comments, he did question "the wisdom of her broadcasting" what amounted to "special treatment."

"As much as, you know, in her position, she wants to appear to relate to the people, there is this little something in her that still causes her to let folk know that, 'I am a little better than you are,'" Brown said.

Did Brown give Rawlings-Blake any points for honesty? After all, she didn't have to offer up that detail, which had not been reported at the time and likely would have stayed buried if she hadn't volunteered it.

"Honest," he said, "but not particularly wise."

Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, saw it differently.

"If it shows anything," he wrote in an e-mail, "it is that the fight against violent crime in Baltimore is deeply personal for the Mayor and she will continue to pursue aggressive policies to confront crime including hiring 350 police officers in 2011 and seeking tougher penalties for illegal gun possession."

laura.vozzella@baltsun.com

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