‘Brother’ Crashes a Ben Jealous Press Event, and the Candidate Rolls With It

It was a gray, bitter cold morning in West Baltimore that seemed more like mid-January than mid-April.

A woman who works in some capacity at the Matthew A. Henson Elementary School had inexplicably just chased Benjamin T. Jealous and a television cameraman from in front of the school, on the northwest corner of Baker and Pulaski streets.

Jealous, a Democratic candidate for governor, was there to formally announce a big endorsement for his State House bid – a nod from the Maryland State Education Association, which represents roughly 78,000 educators statewide.

Big medicine: Mailings, poll workers, Election Day boots on the ground.

Benjamin T. Jealous accepts the endorsement of the Maryland State Education Association Tuesday. Photo by William F. Zorzi

A small knot of campaign and MSEA officials stood before a portable rostrum on the intersection’s southwest corner, some with running red noses, others with stiff, ungloved hands, still others with both.

They had listened to a few representatives of the MSEA’s county chapters, all of whom seemed to decry incumbent Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) for underfunding schools and teachers, and sing the praises of Jealous for his plans on improving the state’s education system.

The “optics,” as campaigns like to say, were good: Jealous was deep in the heart of poverty-stricken West Baltimore. The school in the background was among those in the city whose heat had failed earlier in the year. That alone evoked images of elementary students having no choice but to huddle together in their coats to keep warm, their breath in clouds before them in freezing classrooms. The actual frosty weather seemed scripted.

Jealous, the former president of the NAACP, had delivered his off-the-cuff remarks and just started taking questions from the couple of reporters who stood among the campaign and MSEA faithful.

As he answered a question in the grand campaign fashion, an old white van came chugging by, westbound on Baker Street, and slowed. The driver started beeping the horn, and then stopped the van, barely on the far side of North Pulaski Street; in fact, still mostly in the intersection.

As Jealous turns to look, the window goes down, and the driver sort of shouts, “Hey,” in a gravelly way, waves, and then says “hey” again.

Jealous, recognizing a man-of-the-people candidate moment when he sees one, walks over to the van from the corner — in the middle of the news conference.

At about this same instant, I realize that the van driver is an old friend of mine, Louis “Brother Lou” Butler, once a light-heavyweight boxer well known back in the day and still well known in some circles.

Jealous goes to shake his hand.

Brother Lou shakes, but he is looking past the candidate. He has no idea who Ben Jealous is.

“Hey.”

“Hey,” I say, walking up, and it’s like old times with me and Brother.

I introduce the two men.

Ben Jealous, meet “Brother” Louis Butler, a nationally known boxer and proud son of the Gilmor Homes.

Jealous says something about his mother growing up in the McCulloh Homes, tells him he’s running for governor. They small talk for a few seconds until Jealous turns to return to the corner.

Brother Lou says to me, “Who’s that?”

I tell him.

“What’s he running for again?”

Governor.

“Huh. He never comes out here,” he said. “You never see ‘em, except once every four years.”

He then invites me to the Maryland Boxing Hall of Fame’s 2018 induction ceremony — April 29, down at Michael’s 8th Avenue in Glen Burnie.

State Sen. Mike Wagner’s old place.

“Yeah, yeah. You know, his son just passed?”

Yeah, I had seen that in February.

“Aight,” he said. “Try to get down Michael’s. It’s on a Sunday. 2 o’clock.”

Aight.

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William F. Zorzi
Bill Zorzi was a Baltimore Sun reporter and editor for nearly 20 years, focusing on government and politics. An Annapolis bureau veteran, he wrote a weekly column, “The Political Game” for the paper.Zorzi and another former Sun reporter, David Simon, are longtime collaborators on acclaimed television projects, including the HBO series, “The Wire,” and the HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” which dealt with an explosive housing desegregation case in Yonkers, NY.

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