You gotta have chits to pull that stuff

April 13, 1996|By Harold Jackson

IT'S A GOOD thing Julius Henson resigned. At the rate The Sun was going, it would have next connected him to the Unabomber case. Sharks have nothing on reporters when it comes to smelling blood. And the local media were definitely in a feeding frenzy.

This newspaper felt especially obligated to go after Mr. Henson. After all, it endorsed Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who subsequently hired her frequent flyer mate to head the office of real estate.

Ms. Pratt should cajole city agencies outside her jurisdiction to hire her cronies, the way other department heads do. Boy, does she have a lot to learn.

That's a joke, but it does illustrate her problem. She wants to be a politician, but she hasn't acquired the skills. You've got to have an awful lot of chits in your pocket before you can expect the public to take the kind of in-your-face stuff she tried to pull.

It's not that she was doing anything that hasn't been done to Baltimoreans before. It's that she hasn't earned the right to do those things. I mean, this is a city where I'm told one of the most powerful politicians in the state has been connected with drug dealers. But people seem to accept that because of the ''good'' he has done.

You have to wonder what kind of headlines we would be reading if this particular person had to undergo the type of intense media scrutiny afforded Julius Henson.

But before I am too badly misinterpreted, let me express my own revulsion at the hiring of Mr. Henson to be the city's real-estate ficer Arthur Held told me it probably doesn't matter who holds that job because every Baltimore mayor who hasn't controlled the real-estate office has ignored it. The city charter allows that. Mr. Held believes real-estate transactions -- the purchasing, leasing, equipping and maintenance of buildings -- has been a preferred route to pay political debts in this city since long before Kurt Schmoke was born. Maybe it still is.

But you need someone astute in commercial real estate to figure out who's scratching whose back. Mr. Henson may have been motivated to be that type of detective. But he doesn't have the skills.

Integrity compromised

Let me also express my disappointment in Ms. Pratt, whose most visible attribute as a candidate was the support of her church. Its members' unswerving allegiance indicated she was a woman of uncommon integrity. But her appointment of Mr. Henson suggested otherwise.

She may quibble about her exact words, but she did say Mr. Henson would not work in the comptroller's office. And it looks like the business relationship she had with him, jointly owning some houses, hasn't been completely severed as she said it would.

It should be noted that The Sun didn't endorse Ms. Pratt without considerable dissent. She was running against former state Sen. Jack Lapides, who, if you've ever met him, is a really likable guy whether you agree with him or not. He works at it.

But I don't mind admitting I supported Ms. Pratt from the beginning. I think it is important to boost young people who see politics as a vehicle to give back to the city, but don't want to hitch their stars to the existing power structure. I don't regret The Sun's endorsement. Given what we knew at that time, it was a good endorsement. And this newspaper has endorsed bigger disappointments. Do the names Agnew and Mandel ring a bell?

I do feel Ms. Pratt let down her thousands of supporters. But she has 3 1/2 years to make amends. She must surround herself with people who can compensate for her weaknesses. That means hiring someone who really can figure out how the city handles real estate.

Pub Date: 4/13/96

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