Mayor Pratt? Not likely

April 06, 1996|By Antero Pietila

THE POLITICAL self-mutilation of Joan Pratt has been astonishing, stalling the newly elected city comptroller's meteoric rise. Which is just as well. At least this way she is unlikely to become the mayor of Baltimore.

Mayor Pratt?

Even before this political novice won the Democratic primary nomination for the city's No. 3 office in September, she was telling anyone willing to listen that she intended to run for mayor. Never mind that she had no experience in politics or any proven track record in public office. To give credibility to her pronouncements, her Svengali manager and good and great friend Julius Henson wasted no opportunity to bad-mouth Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

None of this went unnoticed by the Schmoke camp, of course. Which perhaps explains why there is quite a bit of gleeful snickering now at City Hall about Ms. Pratt's self-inflicted misfortunes. The deeper she digs herself, the less likely it is that she will win any other office in the future.

These are early days and Ms. Pratt may yet be able to redeem herself in voters' eyes. That's extremely unlikely, though, because she is startingly lacking in political skills and sophistication. She still has her loyalists. But a telling sign of the damage she has incurred is that a reporter contacting her campaign backers could not find a single one willing to be identified by name in print.

''I'm not a friend of hers,'' said one erstwhile backer who in the better days had been glad to be associated with Ms. Pratt. ''I just go to the same church with her.''

There are two important reasons why Ms. Pratt is unlikely to recover from her blunders.

The chief one is Mr. Henson, 46, whom Ms. Pratt appointed to a $79,400-a-year post as the manager of the city's $3.2 billion real- estate portfolio, despite his woeful lack of expertise in the field. Mr. Henson was a masterful campaign strategist and organizer. Unfortunately, his judgment about propriety and running an important office are not as good as his nuts-and-bolts political instincts.

It went to his head

Mr. Henson's success -- he also ran the victorious campaign of Del. Elijah Cummings to replace Rep. Kweisi Mfume in the House of Representatives -- has gone to his head. Last week, his ego compelled him to call WJHU's Marc Steiner show. Not only did he defend himself and Ms. Pratt during the call but he also offered himself as a guest for a full one-hour show. An elected official would not ordinarily tolerate an underling who hogs air-time and seeks the limelight. But in the Pratt-Henson relationship, the titular boss is not the one calling the shots.

The second reason Ms. Pratt is unlikely to recover is that her rise was so rapid and unconventional that she lacks the support network a regular politician would have. Except for Mr. Henson, she has few real political friends or advisers. She has been calling around in recent days and hearing advice -- good and bad -- from people whose true motives she does not know.

The Pratt case underscores why voters should not elect obscure first-time candidates to high offices. Such overnight wonders may be fresh faces, but their political skills usually are inadequate.

Last summer Ms. Pratt was in the right place at the right time. Mr. Schmoke won an overwhelming renomination to a third term, but voters exhibited little genuine enthusiasm for him. In contrast, the Pratt support was enthusiastic. She seemed to have the right credentials. And her opponent, veteran state Sen. Julius Lapides, ran a poor and disorganized campaign, relying on endorsements from a bunch of tired, old pols to sweep him into office.

The Pratt bubble has now burst. It was about time.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 4/06/96

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