From Krist Boardman:
Despite advancing age (nearly 80) and a string of election losses that would make even William Jennings Bryan envious (he lost three presidential elections), Harford County’s ex-State Senator Arthur H. Helton, Jr. is gearing up for another encounter with Harford voters in 2018.
Just recently he and sidekick George Harrison announced their political club, The New Harford Democrats are running a phone bank to raise some more money to add to the $12,000 plus in the treasury of their club. Their stated goal is to cultivate some new leadership for the Democrats but you can bet that some of the money may go to Helton for yet another try to get his old seat back, and/or to help his stand-in Steve Johnson get elected to the Senate if Helton does not run. Helton and Johnson ran as a team in 2014 when Johnson tried to get elected delegate in 2014.
The only other candidate who received Helton’s blessing in 2014 was Jim Thornton, then on the Harford County Board of Education, who was vice president, then president of the Helton political club. Thornton has had a successful business career but his association with the Helton group did not help him and also Harford County voters may not have been ready to elect an African-American, much less a Democrat, to the Harford County Council presidency, despite the large amounts of money spent on that campaign. (I was a candidate for the Democratic nomination that Thornton won.)
Helton continues to remain a controversial figure in Harford County politics. During the 2014 election between Democratic County Council A representative Dion Guthrie and Republican challenger Michael Perrone, Jr., Guthrie charged that Helton and Harrison hacked into his telephone and computer accounts and thereby helped Perrone win the election.
Those charges have so far gone unrefuted, and it is not known how much this may have contributed to Guthrie’s narrow loss to Perrone. But it nevertheless added to the cloud of mistrust between an elected Democratic official and Helton, who fashions himself as a king maker among Democrats in Harford County politics.
Then there is the issue of Helton’s residency in District 34. He and his wife Ann claim that they live in an investment property in downtown Aberdeen, not in the luxury farm home they own in Darlington in Harford’s District 35. This was supposedly disproved by former delegate Barbara O. Kreamer and former Aberdeen City Council president Michael Hiob who conducted their own investigation. They found by looking at water bills from the two properties that the Heltons were using less water in their Aberdeen property. Also they monitored car traffic and other patterns which tended to support the theory that the Heltons were still living in Darlington.
Despite these complaints, the State Board of Elections continued to approve Helton’s alleged residency in District 34 where he supposedly had a greater chance of being elected where there are more Democrats, than in District 35 where there are many more Republicans. The decision of the SBE is currently being challenged by former Delegate Kreamer.
She sued Helton and the election board and was ready to receive a default judgement in the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County because neither the SBE nor the Heltons had even responded or answered the suit when the matter was dismissed recently on a technicality without prejudice. So far the SBE and the Maryland Democratic Party have shown blind eyes to the alleged violation of the election law.
Art Helton has not always claimed that Aberdeen was his primary residence, when he didn’t need to. When he ran for county executive in 1998 he still declared Darlington as his residence. When Ann ran for county executive, this time in 2002, she also claimed Darlington.
Recently former Delegate Kreamer stated that neither of the two candidates who “duked it out” during the 2014 District 34 Senate primary, Helton and then-Delegate Mary-Dulany James, lived in District 34. James owns a farm house she inherited from her father, the late Sen. William James in Havre de Grace, but she divorced her husband Brian Feeney and was living with a new partner in Howard County. These and other allegations were given wide currency during the ugly primary campaign between Del. James and Helton in 2014.
That campaign caused both candidates to fall; Helton to James in the primary and then James to Republican candidate Robert Cassilly in the general election.
Another matter that rankles Democrats has been the Heltons’ refusal to conduct their political club according to Robert’s Rules of Order. When Michael Hiob and Michael Bennett were both running for mayor of Aberdeen the Helton club sponsored a forum between Hiob and Bennett. But it also took the controversial action of scheduling an endorsement. This action of the chair (then Ann Helton) was challenged from the floor because members of the club did not want the club to take a position between two Democrats while they welcomed the debate between them. But Ann Helton refused to entertain the motion and demonstrated that the club was being run arbitrarily and without the benefit of regular rules. The result was that Bennett won the endorsement narrowly by a 19 to 16 vote, and the Heltons and the political club earned a new enemy in the form of Michael Hiob, a former Helton volunteer who became a key operative in the Mary-Dulany James race for the District 34 Senate seat against Helton.
When the Aberdeen municipal race came up in 2015, incumbent mayor Bennett faced several challengers, including Republican Patrick McGrady, Democrat Marla Posey-Moss and former Aberdeen Council member Ruth Elliott. The Harford County Democratic Central Committee, no longer under the domination of Art Helton, wanted to assist Democratic candidates in the election even though none of the candidates was running under a party label, and printed sample ballots for voters to identify the Democratic candidates in that race and in the races for city council. After Helton’s favorite, Mayor Bennett, lost the election to McGrady by some 50 votes, Helton and his political club blamed the Harford County Democratic Central Committee for the loss. Helton no longer had a close friend in the Aberdeen city hall.
Whether or not Art Helton is responsible for this, several Republican office-holders are former Democrats. Three sitting members of the county council are former Democrats: James McMahan, Richard Slutzky and Chad Shrodes. Shrodes also used to be a member of the Democratic Central Committee in Harford County. A former state senator, the late Robert Hooper, also used to be a Democrat both as a member of the county council and as a state legislator.
The sole remaining elected Democrat above the level of central committee in the county, will be running as the only incumbent Democrat. Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti is apparently being targeted by Governor Hogan in an effort to increase his Republican forces in the legislature. She may be facing stiff and determined opposition.
Helton has succeeded in enlisting U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings to come and speak at Ripken Stadium on Jan. 21. A Cummings spokesperson was not aware of the controversy attached to Helton in Harford County when that commitment was made. This is similar to Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s scheduled teaming up with Helton during Van Hollen’s successful run for the U.S. Senate. But Van Hollen backed out of his commitment to appear with Helton and so was not hurt by this association.
The question is, can Art Helton help his party by doing more or less during 2018?