Henson tells jurors his job was minority 'outreach'

Consultant maintains call was meant to bolster votes, not suppress them

May 04, 2012|By Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

Political consultant Julius Henson took the witness stand Friday to defend himself against charges he tried to suppress the black vote on Election Day 2010, saying his job in former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign was to encourage minorities to vote for the Republican.

Henson said he had proposed working as a general consultant with a "bold" broad-based plan to help Ehrlich return to the governor's mansion. Instead, Henson said, his designated role was "outreach" to black communities.

"They wanted to pigeonhole me with African-American outreach — 'Go work with the black people,'" said Henson, who is black. He added that his expertise as a political consultant "doesn't have anything to do with race."

Henson's testimony is expected to continue Monday.

Henson is charged with election fraud and other election law violations in connection with an Election Day "robocall" that prosecutors say was intended to trick black voters into staying home. Henson has acknowledged that his campaign consulting company recorded the automated call, which told registered Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County to "relax" and stay home. The call implied that Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, had already won his race against Ehrlich even though the polls were still open.

Earlier Friday, former Ehrlich adviser Greg Massoni testified about other work Henson did for the campaign. He said that among other duties, Henson helped coordinate poll workers, set up meetings with black ministers and produce radio spots targeted to black audiences to build support for Ehrlich.

Massoni also said Henson occasionally mentioned the idea of "keeping the black vote diminished," but he added that any suggestions to do so were dismissed by Ehrlich.

Prosecutors rested their case Thursday.

Ehrlich's campaign manager, Paul Schurick, was convicted in December of four charges in connection with the robocall. He was sentenced to 30 days of home detention, 500 hours of community service and four years of probation.

The Ehrlich campaign paid Henson $16,000 a month — for a total of $112,000 — and promised a bonus of $30,000 should Ehrlich win. Henson's attorney, Edward Smith Jr., said his client is still waiting for a $7,000 payment from the campaign for placing the call.

Smith has argued that Henson's call was meant to encourage black votes through reverse psychology, and that his client is being punished by the Democratic Party establishment for crossing party lines to work for a Republican. Both the judge in the case, Emanuel Brown, and the state prosecutor, Emmet C. Davitt, were appointed by O'Malley.

Ehrlich has said he knew nothing of the call.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.


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