Henson sees racism in HUD probe Targeted cities are run by black mayors

'Why not New York?'

Housing chief says inspector general has 'history' of actions

March 11, 1998|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,SUN STAFF

Daniel P. Henson III, Baltimore's housing chief, suggested yesterday that racism might be behind a federal decision to investigate the spending of federal housing funds here.

"Am I the only one who's noticed that the inspector general has decided to go after three cities only that are run by African-American mayors who happen to be Democrats?" Henson asked.

Speaking at a news conference, Henson said, "I've never claimed racism as being the reason why anybody does anything. But I'm just wondering if anybody else finds it curious

"This particular office of the inspector general, if you go back before my time, has a history of doing just that, of going after African-American men in positions of authority in cities."

Henson was responding to a report in The Sun on Sunday that Susan Gaffney, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is preparing to launch criminal investigations in Baltimore, San Francisco and New Orleans.

Henson's remarks provoked little support from his boss.

"I don't think racism motivates HUD investigations," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through Clinton R. Coleman, his press secretary. "In light of the scrutiny under which Congress places HUD, it is to be expected that HUD would place similar scrutiny on local housing authorities."

Gaffney was said to be traveling yesterday. Her deputy, John J. Connors, could not be reached for comment.

Congress added $9 million to Gaffney's budget last year to begin investigations in several cities. Rep. Jerry Lewis, the California Republican who heads the House subcommittee that handles the HUD budget, says Gaffney picked the cities.

She plans to create an Urban Fraud Investigative Team with as many as 20 investigators in each city who will spend several years probing "abuse, fraud and corruption" in the spending of HUD funds.

Henson's housing operations spend more than $350 million a year -- most of that money flowing from HUD. But HUD spending is not limited to the city housing operation. It includes, for example, mortgage and loan guarantee programs financed through private lenders.

Henson has sparred with federal auditors almost from the day he took office five years ago this month. When Gaffney, who was appointed by President Clinton in June 1993, decided to audit Henson's operation in late 1993, Henson tried unsuccessfully to derail the probe.

Yesterday, at the news conference called to discuss other housing issues, Henson was asked about the investigation.

"That's fine and well," he responded, adding that he is not assuming that he is the target.

He expressed the hope that the investigation would concentrate on landlords who cheat taxpayers and tenants.

He said his agency had worked with HUD to shut down seven federally subsidized apartment complexes in Baltimore where the landlords "were not doing a good job and were ripping off the public."

But, he wondered, "Why not go after New York, for example, or nTC Los Angeles both of which have had problems over the last couple of years. Why Baltimore, San Francisco and New Orleans? I haven't talked to the IG about this so I don't know what her motivations are but I do know that there is no explanation coming as to why those three cities out of all the cities in the country" were chosen.

Pub Date: 3/11/98

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