Democratic candidate admits taking rival's political pamphlet from voter's house
Democratic state House candidate Monique Johns has admitted to removing Republican incumbent Kevin Hensley's campaign literature from the front door of a Middletown home on Sunday.
On Monday, she asked voters to forgive her.
"It was wrong and I never should have done it," Johns said in a release issued by the Delaware Democratic Party. "This was a lapse of judgment that I humbly regret. Please forgive me."
Johns, who works as a secretary at the Delaware Department of Labor, did not respond to phone messages and emails from The News Journal.
Her statement came nearly a full day after a video surfaced on Facebook of her removing the pamphlet Sunday afternoon and hours after Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm released a statement calling her actions "bad election strategy" and "bad for our democracy.
"Without equivocation, we reject these tactics and call on Ms. Johns to join us in apologizing to Rep. Hensley and the voters of the 9th District, and to recommit herself to running the kind of campaign the Delaware Democratic Party demands from its candidates," he wrote. "Campaigns are auditions for leadership positions, not win-at-all-cost prank wars."
The firestorm for Johns began when Middletown resident Randy Smith posted on social media two videos recorded by his home security system.
The first shows Hensley leaving the pamphlet. The second video shows a black woman wearing a red coat and a pink baseball cap approach the door and ring the doorbell. She then removes Hensley's pamphlet and replaces it with another before walking off with the Hensley campaign ad.
Johns now admits that she is the woman in the video.
"I work hard to live up to the standards I set for myself and I am disappointed that I fell short in this instance," she said. "But I intend to move forward in running a positive campaign that's focused on talking to voters about the real issues facing [Middletown, Odessa and Townsend] and Delaware."
Smith had not reported the incident to police as of Monday afternoon, according to Middletown Police Chief Michael Iglio. Neither Iglio nor the Delaware attorney general's office would say whether the removal of a campaign pamphlet from private property constituted an actual crime.
"If someone reported it as a crime to us, we would investigate," Iglio said. "But I can't speak in generalities about whether that would result in a criminal charge."
The video could have serious negative consequences for Johns' election hopes.
The 49-year-old Middletown-area resident won a three-way primary last month for the opportunity to challenge Hensley, who is seeking a third term representing a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2,500 voters.
Despite that disadvantage, Hensley defeated Johns in 2016 by about 2,700 votes.
"I think the video speaks for itself," said Hensley, a real estate broker. "But I have always run a clean and positive campaign focused on the issues and I'm not going to change that now."
Accusations of theft or vandalism of campaign materials are fairly standard in any election cycle. Johns, herself, reported having several signs stolen as late as Sunday.
Perhaps Delaware's most notorious political sign theft incident occurred in 2014 when Dana Long, the husband of then-state Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, was caught on video stealing Republican signs during his wife's 2014 re-election campaign.
Over the last two years, candidates have reported hundreds of stolen signs, opponents plastering signs over their own, and people defecating or writing obscene messages on their campaign material.
"Campaigns from both parties should knock it off once and for all," Raser-Schramm wrote Monday. "Voters deserve better and we demand more from our candidates and their campaigns."
Contact reporter Scott Goss at (302) 324-2281, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottGossDel.