McLean drove in luxury while city struggled

December 30, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

And so we come to the end of a love affair between Jacqueline McLean and her car, her $19,000 twilight blue Mercury Grand Marquis, the car with the telephone and the tape deck and the air conditioning, the luxury car she bought with city money, the wonderful car she never should have purchased in the first place.

Nine days after the embattled (and inactivated) city comptroller took her leave of absence from all city business, it dawned on someone at City Hall that McLean was still driving this car she'd ordered two years ago allegedly to use strictly for city business, and allegedly because she didn't have a car of her own, as if such a problem was anybody's but her own.

So yesterday, she gave the car back to the city. She gave it back because pressures were building to give it back. She gave it back because she is currently doing no public business at all, except bracing herself against various investigations of possible wrongdoing -- of sneaking a highly profitable lease past city officials, of sending money to someone named Michele McCloud, who may or may not actually exist, of signing someone else's name on checks. And thus, in lieu of doing any work for the city of Baltimore, she has no right to continue using a car for which the city is paying.

Two years ago, when she bought the car, McLean was hit by a barrage of criticism. The previous comptroller, Hyman Pressman, had always driven his own car, until ill health stopped him. And here was McLean, elected to be the watchdog of Baltimore finances, immediately spending extravagant money while the city was financially strapped. In response to questions, she had a quick response. She lied.

"You're assuming I have a car of my own," she declared.

"You don't?" she was asked.

"No," she said, "I don't have a car. I don't have a car. I don't."

In fact, Motor Vehicle Administration records showed she had three cars: a 1987 Ford truck listed in her name, and a 1989 BMW and a 1989 Jeep truck listed in both her name and her husband's.

Maybe she was being overly specific. Maybe she only meant she didn't have a car that she'd gotten the city to buy for her. Or maybe she meant the three cars listed in her name weren't actually available to her because they were being driven by someone else, such as Michele McCloud.

McLean then tried to say she'd be footing the bills for the car -- until city officials laughed out loud at such a claim.

Yesterday, MVA records showed McLean still owned her 1989 BMW, and owned title to a 1989 Cadillac and a 1979 Cadillac.

Last week, McLean's attorney, Billy Murphy, called a Christmas Eve press conference to denounce some of the McLean media coverage.

"Jackie McLean has never blamed her current predicament on race," said Murphy, in response to some coverage. "She would never do that."

This naturally raises a question: Doesn't Murphy listen to his own client?

McLean assailed city auditor Allan Reynolds, whom she took pains to call "a white male," and charged him with trying to promote white male employees over blacks. She said citizens, "especially members of the African-American community," need to know who is really on their side.

Excuse me? This is not injecting racial overtones into a case merely involving allegations of financial wrongdoing? Murphy said he and McLean just want reporters to cover serious matters, such as black unemployment, and Bosnia, as if reporters currently do not.

No one asked Murphy how much time he was spending on black unemployment cases, or on Bosnia.

And he refused to answer any questions about the facts of his client's case.

Instead, he opened the press conference by asking, "Is Michael Olesker here?"

Yep, I was there.

I was sitting next to Michele McCloud.

Here's a deal: If Murphy doesn't tell reporters how to conduct journalism, reporters won't tell him how to conduct his law practice.

And if Murphy or McLean will answer questions about her case, (( then we can spend more time on other issues, which may or may not be as important as questions of possible wrongdoing on the part of the city's third highest-ranking official.

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