What Joan Pratt has done for women should make men feel a lot less sleazy

March 29, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

IT'S NO mystery why Baltimore comptroller Joan Pratt gave Julius Henson, her (wink, wink) confidant and campaign manager/travel companion, a $79,900-a-year job managing the city's multibillion-dollar real-estate holdings.

Cloris Leachman put it best in "Young Frankenstein": "He was my boyfriend."

If Pratt had a hand to the Bible, I'm guessing she'd have to say the same today.

Many people are upset about this appointment, especially since it is widely believed that Henson has no apparent qualifications for the job other than a winning smile -- oh, and some crummy rental properties he owns, some of which Pratt and Henson used own together.

Actually, as it turns out, Henson was the most qualified person Pratt interviewed for the job. Unfortunately, as it turns out, he was the only person she interviewed for the job.

I'm trying to envision that little interview session.

"Honey, you wanna get Chinese tonight?"

"Chinese? At 79 large ones, we can do better than that. Let's do the Milton Inn. Get that table by the fireplace."

"Oh, baby."

"Oh, baby, baby."

And so, just like that, he got the job.

You may think this practice smacks of nepotism, or worse. It does. And I, for one, think that's terrific.

Because this is not just another sleazy, dime-a-dozen example of political patronage. No, it's much more significant than that. This is, in its own peculiar way, an important step for womankind.

In just a few short years, the Baltimore comptroller's office has been the site of much trail-blazing by women. Those of us who live in the city should be proud (unless you're the mayor and you can't figure out there might be a small problem here until you read about it in the papers) to see our tax dollars at work.

It wasn't so long ago that Jackie McLean had the job. In no time, she proved to the world that women can be as venal as men.

And now Pratt, the new people's choice, has shown that women can behave as shamelessly as men.

Once, we had to be content with sugar daddies. Now, in Ms. Pratt, we've got a sugar momma.

Progress? You bet.

You see, this time it's a woman taking the guy with her on business trips, walking arm in arm on the beaches of Montego Bay while in the service of the taxpayers. This time, it's a woman taking the guy on a safari to the South African bush country. This time, it's a woman taking the man on a business/shopping trip to Hong Kong. Maybe she could get him something nice in the way of, say, a suit, or maybe some jewelry at one of the pearl markets.

For years, the story was always the same: It was the male boss and somebody from the steno pool. Why should men get all the perks?

You remember the infamous case of Wayne Hays and Elizabeth Ray. Hays was the powerful congressman, Ray the secretary/mistress.

Ray said her duties tended to be heavily on the mistress side, explaining: "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone."

Now, we see women with a chance to play the Wayne Hays role for once. We see women with the opportunity to exploit men.

Except that some of the women I talk to don't see the Pratt case that way at all. Some of these women suspect that, however it looks, the guy is still in charge.

After all, Pratt didn't give Henson a job in the steno pool. She gave him a job where he's still a boss. Before you know it, he'll be wanting to take her on (wink, wink) business trips.

And it's Henson, the campaign manager, who's often given credit as the strategist in the Pratt election bid. Who's pulling whose strings?

One woman friend of mine said: "I'm humiliated for my entire gender. Women have wanted to be in the process for so long. I know this sounds sexist, but you'd think that when we finally get there, we'd behave with great grace and . . ."

She shook her head.

She thought women would be better than men.

She thought women would be classier than men.

As a male of my gender, I find myself somehow relieved that they're not.

Pub Date: 3/29/96

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