Jackie McLean: You're no Hyman Pressman

MICHAEL OLESKER

October 20, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

No one ever accused Jacqueline McLean of having trouble speaking for herself -- but, with City Hall tightening its financial belt everywhere, she has now hired a professional mouthpiece just the same.

And she thinks anybody who questions the hire is blowing it wildly out of proportion.

But then, she always does.

The city comptroller thought it was no big deal when she had the city buy her a luxury car, and no big deal when she didn't tell the truth about it, and then she thought it was no big deal when she had a lavish inauguration night party to which she invited people who would be doing business with the city.

Now, for the first time in the history of the office, which is designed as the watchdog of city spending, she's hired a public information officer -- that's bureaucratese for "flack" -- to spread the word any time McLean does something she considers newsworthy.

For those with short memories, it is noted that the previous occupant of the office -- Hyman Pressman -- never, in his 28 years as comptroller, had a flack and yet managed to trumpet his name and his accomplishments as much as any public official in town.

"Yes," McLean said yesterday, "but I don't do poems."

That's a not-so-subtle swipe at Pressman, who contributed his good-natured doggerel to public events but who, in all the years before his health failed, was best known for uncovering waste and mismanagement in city finances.

But McLean has now contracted Marie Henderson, one-time campaign manager for Clarence Du Burns, to "disseminate information to the public."

At a time when the city is barely holding itself together financially, the hire seems not only ill-timed but symbolically inept. But yesterday, McLean said: "Yes, the city is strapped for funds. I want to get the message across that there's a person in the comptroller's office who is concerned about the funds."

This will come as welcome news to some who have questioned McLean's record since taking office last December.

The day she was sworn in, she took possession -- at city expense -- of a brand new, fully equipped $19,000 Mercury Grand Marquis, at a time the city was cutting basic services and hundreds of positions.

"You're assuming I have a car of my own," McLean said at the time -- as if her personal transportation was a concern of taxpayers. She said, "I don't have a car. I don't have a car. I don't."

A check with Motor Vehicle Administration records, though, listed a Ford truck in her name, plus a BMW and a Jeep truck listed in both her name and her husband's name. McLean also said she would personally pay for the new car -- a claim immediately discounted by other city officials.

For her inauguration, McLean staged an $85-a-ticket black tie dinner at the Sheraton Inner Harbor, billed as the First Comptroller's Inaugural Ball, attended by about 400 business people and community leaders. Many at City Hall found the image appalling: that someone who would sit on the powerful Board of Estimates, where the city does its financial business, charging for a high-cost party attended by the very people who would be wishing to do business with the city.

McLean caught some heat over that. More criticism came last summer, when it was revealed she'd significantly increased the number of jobs over which she has sole control to hire and fire -- jobs that, for more than two decades, fell within the protection of the civil service system.

She was criticized again for abolishing several key administrative posts, leaving three veteran city employees jobless.

Now McLean has hired a public information officer, ostensibly to explain such moves.

"She will disseminate information to the public," McLean said yesterday. "There are some audits that we do and the public doesn't know. It's information I feel is informative and they need to know through the media. And I recognize you're going to make a big issue out of this."

In one way, it's not such a big issue. It's a part-time position, and pays $700 a month. But, for what? Is it really information on audits McLean wants the public to hear, or information on herself? For nearly three decades, Hyman Pressman managed to do both, and he didn't make the city foot the bill.

Plus, following her history of the new luxury car, the inaugural night bash, and the layoffs of long-time employees, McLean is showing an unhealthy pattern in her first year as comptroller.

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