Mayor removes Hearn from city housing posts Schmoke Cabinet shake-up follows wide criticism

February 23, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr.and Melody Simmons | William F. Zorzi Jr.and Melody Simmons,Staff Writers Staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn, whose leadership has has come under fierce criticism in recent weeks, was removed from his post yesterday by the mayor.

During a news conference at City Hall, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that Mr. Hearn was stepping down from his $89,600-a-year job as commissioner of Housing and Community Development and executive director of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. He has held the joint positions for the last five years.

Mr. Schmoke said he was reassigning Mr. Hearn, 57, to a new Cabinet position as assistant to the mayor for policy development, a job aimed at improving the city's rela- tionship with the federal government.

Deputy Housing Commissioner Harold R. Perry will serve as acting housing commissioner, he said.

The Hearn move was the first step in a restructuring of city government that will include the two housing agencies, the Urban Services Agency, which administers the city's anti-poverty programs, and the mayor's stations, Mr. Schmoke said.

Among the possibilities, he said, was creating separate agency heads for HCD and the Housing Authority, which now report to one person. More details on the restructuring will be released within 10 days, he said.

Mr. Schmoke also announced the appointment of Victor L. Bonaparte, 45, the $59,100-a-year acting deputy planning director, to a new job as assistant to the mayor for capital projects. Mr. Bonaparte will oversee city construction jobs -- including projects under HCD's control -- to "avoid delays to get these projects moving and get people back to work," the mayor said.

Mr. Hearn's leadership has been criticized over the last six weeks for lax management of the Housing Authority, which oversees 18,300 city public housing units, and for HCD's failure to spend $42 million in Community Development Block Grant money on city projects.

Critics said Mr. Hearn was responsible for the 18 percent vacancy rate in the city's high-rise public housing buildings at a time when there are more than 15,000 families on the waiting list. Mr. Hearn maintained that many families had declined offers to rent units in the high-rises because of crime and sanitation problems.

City officials, including Mr. Schmoke, have toured Lexington Terrace in West Baltimore over the past month to witness the maintenance and sanitation problems that plague tenants. Residents of one of the five Lexington Terrace high-rises are being relocated because the building has been declared unsafe and unhealthy.

While Mr. Schmoke did not criticize Mr. Hearn, City Hall insiders said the mayor has privately expressed his frustration with his housing chief in recent weeks and acknowledged how much of a political liability he had become. Many housing advocates, in fact, have wondered why Mr. Schmoke has kept him on so long.

The mayor said Mr. Hearn's salary would be "adjusted downward," but he was not specific. Mr. Hearn, an academic who holds a doctorate in political science from Yale University, said later that figure was still being negotiated, but he denied that he was being "demoted."

"I think Dr. Hearn was a very good housing commissioner," the mayor said in making the announcement. "He did a good job . . . on a number of projects he worked on."

Mr. Schmoke yesterday defended the housing agencies yesterday, blaming the problems on city and state budget cuts brought on by the nation's "economic downturn" and on "really hostile political pressure" from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Bush administration.

Mr. Hearn was not at the news conference, but afterward took questions from reporters in his office.

"I feel excited and proud the mayor has tapped me for this new and important assignment," a somber Mr. Hearn said. "It is something I know about, and I am looking forward to giving my all to the city. I will work as hard as I can."

After about 10 minutes fielding questions, Mr. Hearn abruptly stood up, turned his back on reporters and made a phone call, ending the session.

Del. Howard P. "Pete" Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, who along with U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Democrat from the 7th District, met with Mr. Schmoke Feb. 8 to seek a restructuring of HCD's leadership, was pleased with the mayor's action.

"The next question is whether the mayor conducts a national search for a manager of HCD and selects someone . . . who would restore public confidence to that agency," Mr. Rawlings said.

Elizabeth Wright, president of the Resident Advisory Board, which represents the city's 40,000 public housing tenants, said she welcomed the change.

"He was not quite aggressive enough," Ms. Wright said. "It seemed like he was eager to respond, but probably didn't know the right buttons to push.

"Dr. Hearn didn't have enough experience" to run public housing, Ms. Wright said. "Public housing deteriorated . . . all over. They have to get some qualified people in there because they're dealing with people's lives."

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