Ambridge a good choice Real estate officer: Former councilman brings double dose of knowledge to the job.

June 14, 1996

IN CHOOSING former Second District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge to be Baltimore's new real estate officer, city Comptroller Joan M. Pratt has taken a big step toward restoring relevancy to that office and regaining respect for herself.

Mr. Ambridge's qualifications place him head and shoulders above Ms. Pratt's initial choice, former campaign manager and personal friend Julius Henson, who resigned abruptly amid widespread criticism of the appointment.

The real estate office has been virtually ignored in numerous property deals that have been handled by the Baltimore Development Corp. and various city agencies and departments. Arthur E. Held, who was real estate officer from 1992-1995, said he believes real estate transactions have for decades been a preferred route to pay political debts in this city.

Ms. Pratt said she hired Mr. Henson because she thought he could ferret out corruption in which a contract to lease, equip or maintain a building might involve a political payback. But Mr. Henson's only real estate credentials, as landlord of several inner-city houses in ill repair, were utterly lacking in credibility.

Mr. Ambridge, a former restaurant owner, has for the past 10 years been a licensed real estate appraiser. He has managed millions of dollars of commercial property for clients. In addition to that, he has gained a wealth of knowledge about city real estate as chairman of the council's Land Use Committee and as a member of the Baltimore Planning Commission and the Regional Council of Governments.

In selecting Mr. Ambridge, Ms. Pratt also has someone who has spent the past 12 years in City Hall as a councilman. He knows how things get done and how they get undone. He has had a good relationship with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, but has a reputation for standing up for what he believes to be right, not expedient. He can help a novice comptroller find her way.

The public wants that to happen. There was a movement several years ago to transfer the duties of the comptroller to the finance department, which reports to the mayor. But Baltimoreans need an independent comptroller because they see that person as a watchdog against abuse of the public purse. With Mr. Ambridge working for her, Ms. Pratt has a better chance of meeting that challenge.

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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