If past elections are any indication, thousands of voters will turn out for the general election Tuesday to cast a ballot for whichever Democrat appears on the screen, burying candidates from the other parties under the reality of how politics work in Baltimore.
But Elbert R. Henderson, the Republican candidate for mayor, would like voters to know that, technically, they have another option, even if practically few of them exercise it.
Henderson, 57, an official in the Washington, D.C., corrections department, is making a second run for mayor, hoping to unseat Democrat Sheila Dixon. Dixon, he said, has failed to deliver to residents in her nearly two decades in city government.
"Our city is calling for a leader and I'm here to answer," Henderson said. "I'm just like every other resident of Baltimore City. I want affordable homes. I want better schools. I want safer streets and I want lower taxes."
In a city where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 8 to 1, Henderson faces overwhelming odds. The last time Baltimore voters elected a Republican to the city's top position was in 1963. It isn't easy for residents - not to mention officials at City Hall - to even remember there is still an election after Dixon won September's Democratic primary.
When Henderson ran against then-Mayor Martin O'Malley in 2004, he received 12 percent of the vote.
And then there is the nagging question of where Henderson lives, which hounded him during his last run for office. He lists a home in Baltimore City and a home in Carroll County as principal residences with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.
But Henderson describes himself as a fighter, with decades of military experience as well as positions in corrections departments - including more than 30 years with the state. He has a direct, no-nonsense demeanor.
He counts affordable housing among his most important issues and suggests the city should return to the $1 home program created in the 1970s under then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Several neighborhoods near the Inner Harbor were strengthened when the city sold vacant homes for $1 to owners who were willing to renovate them.
Henderson also advocates for a more concerted effort to bring social services to people before they become caught up in the criminal justice system. He bristled at the suggestion that the idea sounded similar to Dixon's "holistic approach," in which she has said the city needs to do more to help residents before they are arrested.
"Sheila Dixon is a parasite, and I hate to carry it like that, but I want to be fair," Henderson said during an interview that took place in Washington.
Dixon, he argued, had stolen his ideas as well as those of City Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., who ran an unsuccessful campaign against Dixon in the Democratic primary.
Anthony McCarthy, a Dixon spokesman, said he believes many people in Baltimore do not know who Henderson is and, more importantly, where he stands on issues.
"It would be a disaster if he were elected," McCarthy said. "There's a lack of connect when it comes to the issues that the mayor deals with every day. The people don't know what Elbert Henderson would do."
Henderson was born in North Carolina - the ninth of 14 children - and moved with his family to Baltimore when he was 3. He attended high school in Baltimore but ultimately graduated from the former Andover High School in Linthicum in 1968. He has been married to his high school sweetheart, Margo A. Henderson, for 37 years.
He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Baltimore in 1982 and a master's degree in public administration from Sojourner-Douglass College in 2002. Hyacinth Anucha, interim director of Sojourner's graduate studies, said that Henderson wrote a paper in class about what he would do as mayor of Baltimore.
"He seemed to be preparing for today," Anucha said. "I think, personally, it doesn't really matter to me what party you belong to, but rather what you would do for the people."
Henderson was drafted into the Army in 1970 and served in South Korea. He served in the Reserves until 1995, retiring from the service with the rank of captain.
Henderson has faced questions about where he lives since a 2004 article in The Sun noted that he split his time between a rowhouse he owns on Ulman Avenue and a house in Woodbine in Carroll County.
Asked directly if he lives in Baltimore, Henderson answered indirectly - stating that he is registered to vote, owns a home, has taken part in jury duty, attended school and is involved with neighborhood crime watches in Baltimore. He would not say, however, whether he lives in the city.
"I have several residences, in Baltimore City, which is my primary residence. I have a residence in Carroll County. I have a residence in Baltimore County, in other counties in the state," Henderson said. "I have property outside of the state. I have property outside of the country."
Baltimore's charter requires candidates to establish residency a year before the election. But the Maryland Court of Appeals has set a loose definition of residency. In a 1998 case, a candidate was allowed to run for office in Baltimore even though he mostly lived in Pikesville. Official residence, the court ruled, is where the candidate says it is.
Henderson, meanwhile, does not appear to be actively campaigning for the job. Asked to provide a list of campaign events, Henderson said the media has written him off and suggested it did not make sense for him to publicize his events. He said he is knocking on doors, but declined to say where and when.
Still, supporters said that Henderson represents a choice for voters who are fed up with the decades-long Democratic grip on city politics. Duane Shelton, the Republican Party chairman for Baltimore and a candidate for City Council in the 10th District, argued there is supposed to be a two-party system of government in this country.
"If people are happy with the way the city's government has been running, and not bothered by the city's murder epidemic, then they should vote for more of the same," Shelton said by e-mail. "If not, they should vote for change."
Elbert R. Henderson
Born: Dec. 16, 1949
Job: Official with D.C. Department of Corrections
Education: Andover High School, '68; University of Baltimore, B.S., '82; Sojourner-Douglass College, M.P.A., '02.
Personal: Married, one son.
Contact: www.ehendersonformayor.com; email@example.com