Incumbent City Councilmember Bill Henry faces a past challenger in the 4th District
Published: August 10, 2011
In 2007, the last time 4th District voters went to the polls to choose their City Council representative, the ballot was flush with candidates. The incumbent, Kenneth Harris Sr., had stepped aside to run for City Council President and nine Democrats materialized to jostle for the vacant seat. (Harris lost to Stephanie Rawlings-Blake; he was murdered the following year.) Bill Henry won with 39 percent of the vote. Northeast Baltimore community activist Scherod Barnes took second, with 18 percent. Now, as another primary approaches, Barnes is challenging Henry once more. But this time it’s mano a mano. “This year’s unique because it’s just the incumbent and I,” Barnes says. “It’s a 50-50 shot.”
The 4th, which extends across most of North-Central Baltimore, is diverse both racially and socioeconomically. According to 2010 Census data, 73 percent of the residents are African-American and 23 percent are white, while Asians and Hispanics represent about 2 percent each. York Road bisects the district, and to some degree divides the more affluent neighborhoods from those that are struggling. The mansions of Guilford lie to the west of York Road, while blighted neighborhoods such as Woodbourne-McCabe and Pen Lucy lie to the east (particularly the southeast).
Henry, 43, lives in Radnor-Winston, a neighborhood west of York Road, and he easily won every precinct on that side of the district in 2007. Barnes, 63, lives in Loch Raven, a neighborhood in the northeastern corner of the district; in 2007, he won only his own precinct and one that borders it, but he did well in several other east-side precincts. A third candidate that year, Ryan Coleman, won three precincts on the east side and took 14 percent of the vote overall. The question now is whether Coleman supporters—as well as voters who supported other candidates—will choose Henry or Barnes.
Henry had a history of working on city and community matters before he was elected. He was director of commercial development at the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation. Before that, he worked at City Hall in various capacities, including as legislative aide to Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) and as chief of staff under former Council President Lawrence Bell III. He currently represents the council on the city’s Planning Commission and is vice chair of the Taxation, Finance, and Economic Development Committee. (In October 2010, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young [D] removed Helen Holton [D-8th District] as head of that committee after she pleaded no contest to campaign finance violations. Young then bypassed Henry and appointed Carl Stokes [D-12th District] to the position.)
Henry’s campaign literature points out that he has sponsored or co-sponsored over 300 resolutions and ordinances in his one term, but what may stick in some voters’ minds is the matter of his expense account. Last summer, Fox45 obtained documents that showed Henry had spent about $6,000 for meals with constituents since being elected. When the station filed a public information request for an itemized list, Henry paid the tab himself, having failed to itemize his receipts over the course of two and a half years.
“What should I say about that other than that I wish that the people who signed off on it [in the Council President’s office] had said something sooner rather than just signing off on the receipts as I turned them in?” Henry says now. “It was one of those things where you realize that this is not the proper form to follow.” He says he now itemizes his receipts, but constituents with whom he’s discussing city business often offer to pay rather than “be dragged into a story by having me pay for it.”
Henry has had a different sort of spending problem on the legislative front. “It’s hard to get really a lot of creative stuff done when there’s absolutely no money for new things,” he says. “It has been hard to do new initiatives that cost money.” Even when such initiatives pass, they aren’t always funded, Henry says. He points to a 2008 bill he introduced to the Council that proposed setting up a grant program to funnel money confiscated from criminals back to neighborhood-level public-safety efforts. The bill became law, but the program has not been funded in the budget, rendering it impotent.
Henry says while passing legislation with dollars attached has been difficult, he is an advocate for his constituents in other ways. He says, for instance, that this summer his office paid to hire a supervisor for a crew from YouthWorks—the city’s summer jobs program for youths—to take on deferred park maintenance in Chinquapin Run Park. Along with “quality of life crimes” and youth initiatives, Henry lists the environment high on his list of priorities. (And the League of Conservation Voters has endorsed him.) In that realm, his “most popular failure,” he says, was a 2008 bill that would have imposed a 25-cent fee on plastic bags at retail stores. City businesses were quick to condemn the idea, saying it would drive consumers to shop outside the city. The bill was withdrawn, and Henry says it made him re-examine his legislative stance. “I’m going to be looking to see how many of the things that we’re trying to do in Baltimore City would be actually more of a win-win if we did them on a larger basis,” he says. If he is re-elected, he plans to take more of his fights to Annapolis.
Meanwhile, Barnes is headed in the other direction. In July 2010, he was appointed to the state House of Delegates to fill the 43rd legislative seat left vacant when Ann Marie Doory retired. He declined to run for the seat when her term ended in January 2011, in favor of running for City Council. “I’m a city-issue-oriented person,” he says.
Like his opponent, Barnes has a long history of community involvement. He is the chair of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee, and past president of the Loch Raven Improvement Association as well as the Northeast Community Organization, a Northeast Baltimore umbrella organization. (His day job is in sales and community relations at road construction titan P. Flanigan and Sons.) He says his experience in the community has taught him all the skills a good councilmember should have. “I know how to bring people together, how to solve problems, how to have people at the table with different opinions and be a mediator and come up with a common solution,” he says. “The people in the 4th are dying for someone with a hands-on approach to governing. I don’t think we have that.” Barnes claims, for example, there is a perception in the 4th District that Henry is not available to residents east of York Road. “That’s a problem even if it’s just a perception,” Barnes says.
Henry says this is actually the arena in which he feels most accomplished. “One of the things I’m definitely proudest of is my greater accessibility,” he says. He points out that he does not have another full-time job, and contends he is the only councilmember with an office in his district, a place where residents can seek help and hold meetings. He’s also formed a 4th District Community Advisory Committee made up of stakeholders from across the district.
In response to the charge that he is less available east of York Road, he says he attends nearly all his community association meetings and that neighborhoods east of York tend to meet more frequently. “I spend far more time going to the neighborhood associations between the York Road corridor and Perring Parkway [than those west of York Road],” he says. “The neighborhoods that I think [Barnes] is trying to say I’m not accessible to, those are the neighborhoods that I’m most accessible to.” Henry says that Barnes is harping on the accessibility issue because he “has no plan, no issues, no ideas.”
Barnes’ platform includes concentrating on “bringing those less fortunate up to a higher standard.” He says he’d like to see students from trade schools put to work rehabbing city-owned buildings and then have those buildings sold at a price lower-income residents could afford. He says he’d like to strengthen community organizations and encourage them to work harder on outreach toward young people and new residents. “We have to refocus on the revitalization and reinvestment in our neighborhoods,” he says. Money for such endeavors could be found in part through streamlining government agencies, he says: “Are they top-heavy in management? Are we doing duplication? Can we fold some of these departments into other departments?”
Both candidates say fundraising this season has been tougher than in 2007. But Barnes says he’s raised around $30,000, and Henry puts his bankroll at a little over $20,000. (As of the last available campaign finance report from late 2010, Henry’s committee was more than $56,000 in the hole. Henry says the figure represents a loan he and his wife made for his own 2007 campaign and it will “probably end up getting written off.”)
At least four current councilmembers—including Jack Young—attended a fundraiser Barnes held in January. “That means something,” Barnes says. But it could just mean local politicians are hedging their bets: Carl Stokes attended Barnes’ fundraiser, but he also appears in a video North Baltimore Patch shot recently at a Bill Henry fundraiser. In the video, Stokes says he supports Henry.
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