If folks were waiting for Julius Henson's campaign for state Senate to go negative, they didn't have to wait long.
Within days of a city judge's clearing the way for Henson to run in East Baltimore's 45th District, the longtime political consultant distributed his first negative flier about incumbent Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden. Entitled "McFadden's Dirty Dozen," the list of 12 criticisms included the assertion that McFadden, who walks with a cane, isn't "healthy enough" to serve in the General Assembly.
Days later, Henson's campaign posted a video to YouTube that accused McFadden of "corruption" and said he was "twerking not working" with a campaign contributor during the General Assembly session.
McFadden says he won't dignify outlandish claims with a response. He's running on his 20-year record in Annapolis where, as vice chairman of the Senate's budget committee, he says he's helped send billions in state dollars to Baltimore. In this year's session, the senator says, he helped push a rise in the minimum wage and expansion of pre-kindergarten programs.
"I have a record, and he has a record. The people will compare the two," McFadden says. "He never talks about what he would do. It's just attack, attack, attack. It's sad, because it turns people off."
Henson was convicted of conspiracy to violate election laws in connection with an Election Day robocall in 2010, made as part of Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s campaign to unseat Gov. Martin O'Malley. The call targeted Democratic voters in Baltimore and Prince George's County and said they could "relax," suggesting that O'Malley had won and they could stay home, though the polls were still open.
McFadden cited Henson's conviction in refusing to attend a candidate forum last week at the Berea Eastside Neighborhood Association, where Henson is president.
"I will not debate a person who attempted to suppress the black vote on behalf of the Republican Party and has been sentenced to four months in jail," McFadden said in a written statement to the group.
Before about 100 people at Fort Worthington Elementary School, Henson described McFadden's refusal to debate as a sign of cowardice.
Henson pitched a message of change, saying he would stand up to Annapolis leadership that has left East Baltimore in a state of ruin.
"Do not vote for him because you'll get what you've been getting for the last 25 years," Henson told the audience. "More homicides. More shootings. More high blood pressure. More AIDS. No investment. Unemployment. Every bad thing you can think of. ... He's a nice man, but he's done absolutely nothing."
Julia Y. Eanes-Moore, a member of the organization, said she knows incumbents usually have a better chance, but she's hoping that Henson "has a good shot" at McFadden's seat. Eanes-Moore, a microbiologist, said Henson has done good work as president of the community association. "Issues are being addressed. He's done a good job."
The 45th District, like much of Baltimore, is a diverse collection of neighborhoods — from some of the poorest blocks in East Baltimore to more comfortable neighborhoods to the north. Later in the week, McFadden campaigned in Northeast Baltimore's Arcadia neighborhood, going to door to door one evening with an entourage that included affordable health care lobbyist Vincent DeMarco, who lives there.
As they walked along well-kept lawns, McFadden barely said a word as DeMarco sung his praises.
"This man is one of the great public health heroes!" DeMarco said to two neighbors, Russell and Kathryn Murray.
"You got our vote," Russell Murray told McFadden. "Vinny has always steered us in the right direction."
A member of the group, Robert Stokes, a House of Delegates candidate who works in constituent services for City Councilman Carl Stokes, noted the disparity in the district from the flower beds of its northern sections to the vacant lots of its southern parts.
"There's a lot of work that needs to be done in the 45th," said Stokes, who is not related to the councilman. "If you look at the top part of the district, it's different from the bottom part. The bottom part needs a lot of work, and I live in the bottom part of the district."
In an interview afterward, McFadden did respond to one of Henson's repeated allegations: that McFadden lives in the North Baltimore community of Cross Keys, not in the 45th District.
McFadden says he still lives in the district, but acknowledges that he spends much of his time at a retirement home in Cross Keys. He has a bad back and finds the accommodations there most comfortable, he said.
"I don't try to trick or fool people," he said of the Cross Keys residence. "I don't hide that. I don't lie about it."
A Maryland appeals court has ruled that officials may have their primary residence outside their districts.
While the race between McFadden and Henson has attracted much attention, a competitive contest is also being waged for the House of Delegates. Eight Democrats, including two incumbents — Del. Cheryl Glenn and Del. Talmadge Branch — are running for three seats, including an open seat left by the death of longtime lawmaker Hattie Harrison.
Among the candidates are Stokes, former Air Force member Marques Dent, union organizer Cory McCray, educator Kevin Parson, congressional aide Harry Spikes and activist Aaron Keith Wilkes.
"This is a perfect season for a nonincumbent to run and win with an open seat," Glenn said. "I'm worried about me. I don't think any of us are safe."
Nathaniel J. McFadden
Maryland Policy & Politics
Job: Five-term state senator; retired educator
Family: Married, three children
Job: Political consultant
Family: Divorced, two adult children, two teenage children and grandchildren.