Pratt aide gets 2nd post Executive assistant also is comptroller's campaign treasurer

Lewis sees no conflict

Move follows Henson appointment to job in office

April 05, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

Julius Henson is not the only official of Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt's campaign organization to hold a high-paying city job in her office.

Danice H. Lewis, the new treasurer of Ms. Pratt's continuing campaign committee, is also the comptroller's $46,400-a-year executive administrative assistant.

Ms. Lewis began her city job last December, shortly after Ms. Pratt was inaugurated as Baltimore's third highest-ranking official.

Last month, Ms. Lewis' name appeared for the first time as Ms. Pratt's campaign treasurer on required financial reports, the reports show.

Ms. Pratt's two political operatives have been given important roles in the comptroller's office, helping to oversee the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds and the sale and lease of government real estate.

Yesterday, Ms. Lewis said she saw no conflict between her job as a top aide to the comptroller and her position as Ms. Pratt's campaign treasurer -- a post that involves soliciting and keeping track of campaign contributions.

"I don't think there is a problem. There really is no problem," said Ms. Lewis, who added that she took on the duties of Ms. Pratt's campaign treasurer in January.

The head of a government watchdog group had a different view.

"It certainly gives an appearance of impropriety," said Deborah Povich, executive director of Common Cause/Maryland.

"It's a delicate situation when public officials mix their campaigns with their public jobs. It continues to look bad for" Ms. Pratt, she added.

Efforts to reach Ms. Pratt yesterday were unsuccessful.

The first-term comptroller has been under fire since naming Mr. Henson two weeks ago to a $79,400 job overseeing the city's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio.

The turmoil has been prompted by the business, political and personal relationships between the two.

In appointing Mr. Henson, a business partner in several investment properties who managed her successful campaign last year, Ms. Pratt described him "best qualified" for the job even though she acknowledged that he was the only one she had interviewed.

Last week, The Sun reported that Ms. Pratt and Mr. Henson took three trips abroad together in the past three years, including one this winter to Jamaica. Ms. Pratt conceded that the two are "very good friends" but insisted that their friendship played no role in his hiring.

The Sun also reported last week that Mr. Henson is under review by city prosecutors for not correcting code violations on one of his East Baltimore rental properties. The report also raised questions about whether Mr. Henson and Ms. Pratt continue to jointly own nine city properties.

Recent campaign reports continue to list Mr. Henson as chairman of Ms. Pratt's political committee, Friends to Elect Joan M. Pratt, C.P.A.

On Tuesday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who complained last week that the controversy "casts a pall over City Hall," appealed to Ms. Pratt during a 20-minute meeting to answer in detail all questions about her appointment of Mr. Henson.

"This thing is going to stay with her. To the extent there are problems with him, they are her problems, too," the mayor said in describing the meeting.

This week, in two brief interviews, Ms. Pratt continued to defend her appointment of Mr. Henson and made clear that she was not reconsidering him as her choice.

"I haven't had any second thoughts," she said in an interview Tuesday.

Ms. Lewis replaces Rufus T. Ingram as Ms. Pratt's campaign treasurer. Mr. Ingram, an accountant who has known Ms. Pratt for several years, said yesterday that he intended to serve only through the general election.

"That was the extent of my commitment," he said.

As a worker in Ms. Pratt's campaign, Ms. Lewis, a former bank official, was paid a salary of $3,375, records show.

After her victory in the September Democratic primary, Mr. Henson was paid $12,900 by the Pratt campaign, records show.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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