City Hall's 'control freak'

April 14, 1994

Baltimore's Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III is not just a private-sector developer who has chosen temporary duty as a bureaucrat. More important, he is a close friend and top political strategist of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Mr. Henson is thoroughly convinced that the better he does his job, the easier it will be for Mr. Schmoke to win re-election to a third term in 1995. Threatening such a triumph is City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who has announced she is challenging Mr. Schmoke for the chief executive's job. In response, the Schmoke camp has taken steps in recent months to isolate Ms. Clarke and to prevent her from taking credit for things the mayor thinks are of his doing.

A terse memorandum from Mr. Henson recently informed the City Council president that she should direct any further requests for information or action to the housing director's office, not to his staff members. "Contacts directly with my staff will result in reprimands issued to responding employees in the future," the memo threatened.

Although he admits to being a "control freak," Mr. Henson denies any political motive. "It's not a Mary Pat thing," he says. "I'm in the service business, I'm just trying to give better service."

Ms. Clarke, for her part, takes this limiting of her access stoically. "I've been through this with all mayors," she says, referring to previous retaliations because of this or that perceived slight.

But Mr. Henson's motives and Ms. Clarke's response are beside the point.

City employees work for the citizens. Something is badly amiss if city officials directly elected by the people -- of whom there are 20 besides the mayor -- are hampered in their performance of legitimate functions.

As the mayoral campaign begins to heat up, we urge Mr. Henson to remember that as the housing commissioner he is a public servant. In that role, he ought to refrain from actions that can be construed as being politically motivated.

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