Pratt insults the public's intelligence Henson and the 'good old ex-boyfriend network'

March 31, 1996|By GREGORY P. KANE

City comptroller Joan Pratt is a certified public accountant. To become one she had to pass what must be the most grueling, brutal test in existence, consisting of three days and some 18 hours.

So let's be clear on one point: Pratt isn't stupid. She has to know that her appointment of Julius Henson to oversee Baltimore's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio is on shaky grounds if only from a logical standpoint.

Pratt appointed Henson to the post earlier this month. Henson ran her campaign during last year's elections. She interviewed no other candidates and swore Henson was qualified for the real estate job. But CPA Pratt, being the analytical woman she must be, knows that there is a world of difference between being qualified and being the most qualified.

Critics who say Pratt conducted a nationwide search and interviewed several candidates before hiring Beverly L. Everson-Jones as city auditor say she should have done the same thing with the post Henson now occupies.

When Sun staff writer Eric Siegel reported Wednesday that the Pratt-Henson relationship was just a wee bit closer than she had previously described -- what with trips the couple took to Jamaica, South Africa and Hong Kong -- folks naturally grew suspicious that a conflict of interest may be afoot. A West Baltimore businessman wrote a sworn affidavit insisting he saw Pratt and Henson on the Jamaica trip in cuddly positions indicating something closer than mere friendship. Channel 13 reporter Suzanne Collins said in a news story that ran last Wednesday March 27 that Pratt told her she was romantically involved with Henson about 10 years ago but not today.

My God, how stupid does this woman think we are? Residents of Baltimore are sometimes jokingly referred to as Balti-morons, but apparently Pratt thinks the joke is meant literally.

To date, Pratt insists she has done nothing wrong, that she and Henson are not lovers but good friends and that the brouhaha about his appointment amounts to a tempest in a teapot. She told Collins that the issue is sexism (how refreshing that she didn't use the hackneyed "the racists are out to get me because I'm black" defense).

"Men promote and hire their friends all the time and nothing is said about it," Pratt said in a recent newscast.

My, what an original defense! "I'm doing it because the men have always done it." It seems to me that's just the reason for not doing it, that some voters might elect women to office because they trust them not to do what men do, typically. Men might slip a pal, a crony or a former or current girlfriend into an office but elected women officials might not, realizing that it was just such a system that perpetuated racism and sexism.

But Pratt's idea of progressive politics is to replace the "good old boy" network with a "good old ex-boyfriend" network. She's right in insisting that she's done nothing illegal. Pratt is certainly not the disgraced former comptroller Jacqueline McLean. She may not have even done anything unethical, just unwise and questionable.

And, lest we forget, the questions about Henson began before Pratt was even elected. The Baltimore Afro-American chastised Henson in its endorsement of Pratt, accusing him of using "bullying tactics" and of using "a veiled threat of the possible economic repercussions this newspaper [The Afro-American] could face if it failed to endorse Ms. Pratt."

On two occasions, one with the Afro's editorial board and again with a reporter, Henson interrupted Pratt's answers to give his own comments, the editorial charged. The editorial further vTC charged that Henson could damage Pratt's credibility and political career, questioned who was really in charge of Pratt's campaign and expressed "grave doubts" about Henson possibly being a part of her office.

Former state senator Julian L. Lapides, Pratt's opponent in the September primary, had similar concerns, suggesting that Henson might have such influence on Pratt that he, not she, might actually be the comptroller.

But Pratt told Sun reporter Joan Jacobson that Henson would have no job in the comptroller's office if she was elected.

Pratt now says she remembers the conversation differently, insisting she said Henson had no interest in a position in the comptroller's office. Ah, I'd like to believe you, Joanie, but why do I get the feeling that you should have bestowed on you the highest honor of the Royal Society of the Hoodwink?

For now, we're stuck with Henson in a city job. Inevitably, charges of racism will be hurled at those criticizing Pratt's selection, the Afro's warning about Henson just days before Pratt was elected notwithstanding. Some will question why the predominantly black districts of West Baltimore provided the politically inexperienced Pratt with the votes necessary for her to surge past the more experienced Lapides and win the election.

But no one can blame me. I voted for the white guy.

Gregory P. Kane is a columnist for The Sun.

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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