O'Malley OKs paid leave for Graziano

Housing chief to get alcohol treatment after arrest at bar

Second incident alleged

January 05, 2001|By Gerard Shields and Gady A. Epstein | Gerard Shields and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley granted his city housing commissioner a 30-day leave of absence for inpatient alcohol-abuse treatment yesterday in the wake of the official's disorderly conduct arrest after reportedly making graphic anti-gay remarks at a Fells Point bar.

O'Malley's announcement came as patrons of a Mount Vernon bar described another account of drunken behavior and inappropriate comments earlier that evening by a man they identified as Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.

Graziano, 47, who has said he doesn't remember the Dec. 28-29 incidents because he blacked out, requested the leave, O'Malley said. He declined to say where Graziano is seeking treatment.

In announcing Graziano's paid medical leave, O'Malley leveled his strongest criticism to date at the housing commissioner's actions. Gay rights advocates have been calling for Graziano's dismissal, accusing the mayor of tolerating bigotry.

"The last week has been a very trying week," O'Malley said at his news conference. "I can't express how angry, how outraged, I was at what Mr. Graziano said. I failed to communicate how outraged I was at his comments."

O'Malley has said that Graziano's drunken condition should be considered a mitigating factor, equal to the symptoms of a disease, in assessing the anti-gay remarks he made to bar patrons.

Yesterday, he said that in rushing to Graziano's defense, he failed to convey his own anger and disappointment over the comments.

Baltimore police arrested Graziano early Dec. 29 after he made loud, disparaging comments to two men he seemed to think were gay at Bertha's, 734 S. Broadway in Fells Point.

The former New York City Housing Authority director, tapped by O'Malley in October to run one of the city's most beleaguered agencies, spent the night in jail on charges of disorderly conduct and failure to obey police orders to leave the bar. Prosecutors eventually dropped the charges.

Graziano, who publicly apologized later that day for his behavior, said he had been at dinner until about 9 p.m. with Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock. Hitchcock said she did not believe Graziano was drunk at the time she left him.

His whereabouts during the two to three hours before he arrived at Bertha's have been unclear, but two men say they know where he spent some of that time - at the Brewer's Art bar and restaurant at 1106 N. Charles St.

John L. Schultz, 23, and Donald E. Canneti, 25, said they were involved in a confrontation with a man they believed to be Graziano about 11 p.m. They said they recognized him from the television coverage of his arrest the next day.

According to the two patrons, the man was talking to a friend of theirs at the upstairs bar, holding her hand or her arm, when they decided to get her away from him.

Canneti, who teaches for a private firm in a Baltimore County school, said that when he intervened, the man "grabbed my arm and said she hadn't made up her mind."

Canneti then told the bartender that the man should be cut off, he said. When the woman got up to leave, the man started addressing Canneti with disparaging, obscene remarks about homosexuality, he said.

Schultz, a research assistant in computer science at the Johns Hopkins University, said he then confronted the man, who continued making similar comments. Schultz said the man also used the word "fag" a couple of times and talked about beating him up.

The bartender stopped serving the man drinks, Schultz and Canneti said. The man left soon after, Canneti said.

"I can't imagine what kind of condition he was in. He barely could walk out of the bar that evening," said Canneti, who described the man's speech as "extremely slurred."

A bartender at the Brewer's Art who asked not to be identified confirmed that a man was asked to leave that night because of drunkenness, but the bartender declined to say whether the man was Graziano.

When told of the Brewer's Art incident this week, Graziano said he couldn't dispute it because of his blackout and he again apologized. He said Tuesday that the last detail he remembered from the evening was Hitchcock dropping him off between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. near Charles at Saratoga Street, not far from his residence.

"I don't remember where I went," said Graziano, who said he didn't drive that evening because he doesn't own a car.

O'Malley said revelations of the second incident have not changed his decision to retain Graziano, who he said is sorely needed to "turn around" the housing agency. The mayor said that the actions were "out of character" for Graziano and that the commissioner had delivered a "heartfelt apology" Tuesday to the mayor's Cabinet.

"I've seldom seen a person more contrite or remorseful," O'Malley said.

News of the Bertha's incident and of O'Malley's decision not to dismiss Graziano angered gay rights groups. The mayor plans to meet privately at 2:30 p.m. today with representatives of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore.

Yesterday, gay rights advocates said Graziano's decision to seek treatment for alcohol abuse has not changed their stance.

"The issue is not about Mr. Graziano," said Shannon Avery, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center's political action and legislation committee. "The issue is now the mayor's cavalier attitude about Mr. Graziano's behavior."

O'Malley said Graziano will have to begin his own process of healing community ties when he returns to work.

"He's going to have to reach out," the mayor said. "He has a long way to go to gain the forgiveness of the gay and lesbian community, and I don't blame them."

Deputy Housing Commissioner Denise M. Duval will lead the department in Graziano's absence, O'Malley said.

Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.

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