Above: This will mark the first run for elective office by 52-year-old Marcus Henry. Photo by Stephanie Diani.

By Bob Yearick

Marcus Henry has set out to become the second member of his family to blaze a trail in Delaware politics. And he has made sure to get an extremely early start on blazing that trail.

The son of former Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, the first African American woman elected to Delaware’s General Assembly, he is running for New Castle County executive. If elected, Henry would be the first African American to hold the county’s top office.

Henry officially kicked off his campaign for the Democratic nomination on April 26, 2022, some 2-½ years before the primary election in September of 2024. 

Explaining the early announcement, Henry says: “This is my first run for public office, and this is a difficult task, so I want to get to know people and have them know me.” 

He’s been doing just that over the past year, holding “listening sessions with a lot of stakeholders and political committees and labor, civic and church groups.” He plans to incorporate what he has learned into his platform.

Henry spent the last 20-plus years in public service, most of it in county government. He has worked for the past three county executives — Paul Clark, Tom Gordon, and the current officeholder, Matt Meyer. Prior to that, he gained experience in the private sector, as vice president of development for the Delaware Valley Development Co., followed by a four-year stint as director of capital development for the Wilmington Housing Authority.

Beginning in 2011 under Clark, he held various leadership positions in the county, including serving as the general manager of the Community Services Department from 2017 through 2021. 

Affordable Housing, Redevelopment

In listing his county executive qualifications, Henry focuses on his experience in affordable housing and redevelopment projects as well as overseeing site selection and creation of new libraries.

During his years with the WHA, he worked on several projects that demolished and replaced deteriorating public housing with affordable housing units. In 2009, he helped guide the $2.7 million Eastlake Court Townhouse Project, which involved constructing 10 townhomes that would initially serve as public housing then shift to lease-to-own properties for qualified residents. 

That same year, he announced the WHA’s plans to tear down the Lincoln Towers public housing high-rise and replace it with a combined site that would offer affordable housing units for seniors as well as house a local fire station. Completed in 2013, the redeveloped building was an 88-unit modern mixed-income affordable community for seniors that also housed Wilmington’s Fire Company No. 5. 

Margaret Rose Henry, here with her son (right) and campaign consultant Tony Benson II (center), will bring her political clout to Marcus Henry’s run for office. Photo provided.

As general manager for the county’s Community Service Department, Henry also oversaw the site selection and land acquisition for four libraries, including the state-of-the-art Claymont and Appoquinimink libraries.

In several of those projects, Henry worked closely with John Cartier, county councilman since 2004 for the Eighth District, which includes Claymont and about half of Brandywine Hundred.

Cartier is unequivocal in his endorsement of the first-time candidate. “Marcus Henry would be the most qualified person to ever run for the job of county executive in terms of his extensive experience in administration in county government, his knowledge of county government, and general work in the community,” Cartier says. “He has a very extensive résumé, going back to the WHA and the private sector. 

“I think he would be an incredibly effective leader of our government.”

The 52-year-old Henry is a lifelong resident of Wilmington. He and his older brother, John, grew up on Coleridge Road in the Brandywine Hills section of Wilmington, and both graduated from St. Mark’s High School.

His father worked for DuPont while his mother spent her professional career in the nonprofit sector, serving in management roles with such groups as Delaware Guidance Services, Girls Inc., Ingleside Homes, YWCA, United Way of Delaware, and Delaware Technical Community College. 

His parents divorced when he was 13, but he remains close with both of them. “They both emphasized the importance of giving back, and we would always do volunteer work,” Henry says. 

Business Journalism?

Despite his mother’s strong public service legacy, it took a few years for Marcus to choose the same path. When she was elected to the state senate in 1994, he was majoring in journalism at Howard University in Washington, D.C., with a vague idea about going into business journalism. He did, however, minor in political science. 

About a year after graduating from Howard, he made the first of two life-changing decisions. He moved from Wilmington to Chicago, where his father had started a second career and a second family. 

“I wanted to try a new career path in a larger city and I wanted to get closer to my father and his wife and my stepbrother and stepsister,” he says. 

His father told him about an opening on the staff of City Councilman Joe Moore, who represented Chicago’s 49th District. Henry interviewed, got the job, and proceeded to receive a grass-roots education in government amid the sometimes rough-and-tumble politics of one of the most colorful cities in America.

That experience planted a seed.

After 2-½ years in the Windy City, he realized two things: “I needed to further my education. And I wanted to work in government.”

A friend told him about the University of Delaware’s well-regarded master’s program in Public Administration, which led to the second momentous decision — returning to Delaware, enrolling at UD, and, most important, meeting and falling in love with his future wife, Diliana, who also was in the Public Administration program. 

Married for 21 years, the Henrys live on Rockwood Road in Wilmington with their two children: Gabriella, 17, a senior at Archmere who will attend American University this fall, and Alexander, 15, a freshman in the autism program at Mt. Pleasant High School. 

Alex was the impetus for BrightBloom Centers, which the Henrys founded in 2014 after having struggled to find support services for their son. The centers provide therapy, care and support for families and children with special needs. 

BrightBloom specializes in Applied Behavior Therapy (ABA), which is considered an evidence-based best practice treatment for autism by the U.S. Surgeon General and the American Psychological Association. The centers also provide early intervention services, parent training, and school-based services for children with autism.

“My wife and I worked very hard to keep BrightBloom afloat,” says Henry. “It was difficult for the first few years, but I’m proud to say that nine years later we’re now the largest provider in the state of Delaware. We have a large clinical staff and three service centers in Delaware and one in south Jersey. My wife has the lead on this, and she left a very lucrative job in banking to run it.”

Major County Issues

Henry is still formulating his campaign platform, but he already has identified some key issues that the next county executive will face. At or near the top of that list is public safety, where an officer shortage looms — a common concern throughout the country and critical to the 575,000-plus citizens of New Castle County.

“We are losing a lot of our police force to retirement, or they are transferring out,” Henry says. “Twice a year there’s a police academy that we run with the state and the Fire Marshal’s office, and this year at the first academy we only had about 10 new officers. It takes six months to onboard them, so that’s a concern. And we need to improve communications with the community, create better transparency.

“Also, 911 operators have more demand on them than ever before, so I want to have a pay scale that is commensurate with the work they do. And I want to strengthen our relationship with the county’s volunteer fire services, financially and otherwise. It would cost millions of dollars if the county had to have its own fire service, and we can’t afford that.”

He gives the county a passing grade when it comes to a couple of issues that are in his wheelhouse: land use and housing. 

“We’re doing a decent job in land use,” Henry says, “but we can drill down a little better by collaborating with jurisdictions such as Middletown, making sure we have more comprehensive zoning classifications for commercial property and making sure we’re incentivizing affordable housing in areas of need.” 

Interestingly, Henry uses the word “we” when speaking of county government. This may be a carryover from having worked for the past 11 years with the county executive, or it may suggest a certain confidence in his chances in the still-far-off election. He says he is receiving “a lot of support from Joe Q. Regular Citizen,” and that some officials have told him they’re “excited” for his run for the office.

With Meyer ineligible to serve a third term (he is almost certain to run for governor in 2024), the only other announced candidate for the Democratic nomination is Karen Hartley-Nagle (a Republican candidate is unlikely to step forward in the heavily Democratic county). Hartley-Nagle has been council president for six years, with two years left in her current term. It’s her first elected office, and her tenure has been marked by a harassment suit and some sparring with council members. 

Henry says Meyer “has been supportive” of his candidacy. Of Hartley-Nagle he says, “I have respect for her office and what she does.”

Perhaps his most influential supporter is his 78-year-old mother, who served as majority whip and then majority leader during her time in the Senate. She still wields some political influence throughout the county and is a valuable and enthusiastic supporter of her son’s candidacy.  

“My mother was a role model, from a very young age,” Henry says. “And she taught me — which I think is critically important for everybody — to listen; to listen to people and to have empathy for others.”

As summer approaches, he is slowly ratcheting up his campaign, attending events big and small and scheduling several fundraisers. All of it is focused on Sept. 10, 2024 — when voters will decide if the Henry family has produced a second trailblazer.

Bob Yearick
The copy editor of Out & About, Bob Yearick retired from DuPont in 2000 after 34 years as an editor and writer. Since “retiring,” Bob has written articles for Delaware Today, Main Line Today and other publications. His sports/suspense novel, Sawyer, was published in 2007. His grammar column, “The War on Words,” is one of the most popular features in O&A. A compilation of the columns was published in 2011. He has won the Out & About short story contest as well as many awards in the annual Delaware Press Association writing contest.

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