Eric Hensal’s ideas for city government reach beyond the borders of Takoma Park.
Hensal, 45, is one of two Ward 5 residents who have announced their desire to replace retiring council member Reuben Snipper in a special election set for July 17. Maplewood Avenue resident Melinda Ulloa said she also will run.
Hensal, who moved to Takoma Park in 2003 after leaving his native Ohio, is touting his experience raising awareness about national and global issues from a municipal level. He worked for the Cleveland City Council and as the administrative assistant for North Olmsted, Ohio, Mayor Ed Boyle. North Olmsted is a suburb of 32,000 west of Cleveland.
In 1997, Hensal and Boyle created the country’s first anti-sweatshop law, a measure a number of other cities adopted after Boyle presented it at that year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco. The legislation prohibited the city from purchasing any material produced in sweatshops.
“I don’t want to be in office and not have an idea of some bigger thinking,” Hensal said. “You may never get those things, but what good is it to be in a city and have this ability to control your destiny unless you try to do something. There should be an advantage for living in a city. It should be a sort of laboratory.”
Hensal runs Murray Hill Inc., a public relations firm that works primarily with progressive nonprofit organizations. In 2010, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting political donations from corporations, Hensal tried to enter Murray Hill Inc. in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District race in a satirical attempt to protest the legal concept of corporate personhood.
The state rejected Murray Hill’s application for ballot status, but he staged a mock debate with U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen Jr. (D-Dist. 8) of Kensington to illustrate concerns about corporations gaining influence over political candidates.
“He’s stubborn in a good way,” said Boyle, who was mayor of North Olmsted from 1990 to 1998. “After a while in government, you’ve taken so many ‘No’s.’ His was always, ‘Why can’t we do it?’ And he’ll go crazy trying to find a way. If it’s going to cost the city too much, taxpayers too much than it’s a no and he’ll get to that. But sometimes he’ll drive you crazy getting there.”
Hensal lost to Snipper in the 2007 special election to replace Ward 5 council member Marc Elrich, who left his position after winning a county council seat. He hopes this time around, more people will know his name and approach. He said his experience in constituent service while a Cleveland City Council aide translates to the day-to-day issues he would deal with in Takoma Park.
But he also hopes to tackle larger, more difficult to achieve goals. He talked about the idea of Takoma Park starting its own municipal electric company, probably by buying electricity wholesale from another source to reduce prices and avoid Pepco reliability issues.
“I talk about it not so much like I could do it next week, because it would be a fight,” Hensal said. “But if nothing else, it explains to people how I think. I think Takoma Park has a tradition of making a statement and I do too.”