Pratt campaign manager hired as real estate officer Comptroller's choice contradicts 1995 stand

March 19, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt is hiring her campaign manager and former investment partner in a string of rental properties to run the city's real estate office.

Julius Henson, a rising political strategist who was the architect of Ms. Pratt's victory to the city's third-highest elected position, is to start this week.

As real estate officer, Mr. Henson will oversee the city's portfolio of 350 buildings valued at $3.2 billion. He will report directly to Ms. Pratt and will be paid $79,900 under a one-year contract up for approval tomorrow by the Board of Estimates.

"I want to go down there and make a difference and do a good job," Mr. Henson said yesterday. "There are plenty of things in the real estate department to do differently to try to bring this thing up to the 21st century."

Mr. Henson's experience in real estate comes principally from doing renovation work and owning 15 rental homes, most in poor, struggling city neighborhoods.

Two of the houses he owns are rundown one vacant and boarded and have been cited by city inspectors for deficiencies. The vacant house, at 702 Mosher St. in a blighted West Baltimore neighborhood, has outstanding housing code violations dating to 1983.

Until last summer, Ms. Pratt was a business partner with Mr. Henson and co-owned nine of the properties. Ms. Pratt sold her interest to Mr. Henson during the campaign.

Her appointment of Mr. Henson contradicts her earlier position that he would not play a role in her administration. The week before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, in which she defeated a popular state senator, Ms. Pratt said her campaign manager had "no experience" and "will not be part of the comptroller's office."

"I believe that Mr. Henson would be an asset to the city," Ms. Pratt said last night. "He has an extensive real estate background and I think it would be a great opportunity for the city to have him as a real estate officer."

An entrepreneur from East Baltimore who has worked in printing, construction and politics, Mr. Henson, 46, has moved to the forefront of the city's political arena. He scored a second big win, as campaign manager for Del. Elijah E. Cummings, who won nomination this month over a crowded field of Democrats for the 7th District congressional seat.

Mr. Henson is taking over a city job that has been vacant since last summer. His predecessor, Arthur E. Held, was paid more than $100,000 and had been president of the city's first economic development agency, the Baltimore Economic Development Corp.

Mr. Henson's responsibilities will include managing city real-estate holdings, arranging leases for city agencies and organizing sales of tax-delinquent properties.

Asked about his investment properties, Mr. Henson said he planned to divest himself by turning over the management and trying to sell them. But he also said he did not see any conflicts in owning rental homes while serving as the city's real estate officer.

"That line of business was what I was doing some time ago, and I have already begun to turn the management over to someone else," he said.

Mr. Henson said he plans to begin repairs within weeks on a home cited for poor paving, a deficient kitchen floor and defective piping at 2508 E. Federal St. He said he thought he had sold the home at 702 Mosher St. that is vacant. But city property records still list him as the owner, and the Housing Department still has an outstanding violation notice that was sent to him 13 years ago.

His ownership of rental properties is not his only experience in real estate, he said. He also has bought homes, fixed them and sold them over the past decade.

His first goal is to reorganize the nine-member real estate office. He also plans to examine the numerous leases with city agencies to look for savings and to determine if city-owned buildings could make a better profit than under current arrangements.

Pub Date: 3/19/96

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