Racism? Just typical Henson bullying

March 15, 1998|By MICHAEL OLESKER

WHAT'S next? Daniel P. Henson challenges Susan Gaffney to meet him in an alley? She might be Henson's match, if she looks out for low blows. The last time somebody in government questioned the Baltimore housing commissioner's integrity, it was Martin O'Malley, and Henson and a few of his knuckle-dragging buddies threatened to take O'Malley outside.

O'Malley's offense? At a hearing designed specifically for City Council members to ask Henson about a $25 million housing scandal, and thousands of vacant, rotting houses, and housing inspectors caught in conflicts of interest, and more than a dozen criminal convictions, Councilman O'Malley had the nerve to attempt to ask Henson actual questions.

"If Councilman O'Malley wants to meet me in an alley ," Henson said, quickly joined by a couple of muscular henchmen behind who jumped to their feet and bellowed, "Yeah, and I'll join you in that alley."

Remember? It was two years ago. O'Malley remembers it, and last week he was laughing out loud about it when he wasn't expressing his disgust with the latest language from Henson.

This time, Henson's angry with Susan Gaffney. She's the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, and before she gets hauled into an alley, she's decided to investigate the spending of federal money here.

Henson's response? At a news conference last week, he said, "Am I the only one who's noticed that the inspector general has decided to go after three cities that are run by African-American mayors who happen to be Democrats? I've never claimed racism as being the reason why anybody does anything. But I'm just wondering if anybody else finds it curious ."

Excuse me? Daniel P. Henson, the man who's willfully used race and religion to divide people in this community, now wishes to claim he's "never" gone that route?

Let's skip another review of his past verbal outrages -- it's too disheartening -- and focus on the latest. He sees hints of racism in the HUD investigation? Last year, HUD sent Baltimore $183,479,697 in housing money. Did anybody hear Henson mention the word "racism" when the money was landing on his desk?

The previous year, HUD sent $180,744,364 to Henson's agencies. Any talk of racism then? Not that anybody noticed. The year before that, HUD sent $216,906,155 here. The year before that, $214,552,079. The year before that, $160,352,232.

In other words, in Daniel P. Henson's years at Housing, HUD has sent roughly $1 billion here, and Henson has not once mentioned any taint of race. But now, having dispensed all this money, Washington has Susan Gaffney attempting to ask a simple question: What, exactly, have you done with it? And Henson finds such a question offensive and wishes us to imagine there are racist motives behind it.

This is baloney, and he knows it, and within hours after his remarks Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who has stood by his housing commissioner during some ugly times, issued a statement saying, "I don't think racism motivates HUD investigations."

Councilman O'Malley went further. "I'm saddened and I'm outraged at Henson's remarks, but I'm not surprised," he said. "Fortunately the mayor distanced himself, though that's a rarity.

"The Housing Authority isn't being investigated because of race. It's being investigated because of waste, fraud, abuse and corruption. It's not being investigated because its director is black, but because he's arrogantly refused, and at times actively obstructed, corruption investigations by the federal government and the City Council."

Including that hearing two years ago, when O'Malley tried to question Henson, who then challenged him to step outside. What'll he do now, challenge Susan Gaffney to a slugfest?

"Yeah," O'Malley said, laughing, "a charity boxing match. I'd pay money to see that. Pay per view. I've been working out since he challenged me, but. "

But maybe Gaffney's more Henson's style. His style is to attempt to bully his way past troubles, to rearrange the facts and inject race or religion when it suits his needs. It's gotten him this far, but it has nothing to do with HUD's current concerns: city housing agencies that have received about $1 billion from Washington over five years, and what do we have to show for it? Thousands of abandoned, rotting homes that are a plague on whole neighborhoods, millions of dollars in no-bid housing contracts awarded to friends of Henson's or Schmoke's, lots of inflated costs, lots of shoddy workmanship and lots of work that was simply never finished.

If any of this connects to racism, it's strictly in Henson's fevered imagination.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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