Real estate officer Ambridge dismissed

City comptroller fires property manager without explanation

January 06, 2001|By Tom Pelton and M. Dion Thompson | Tom Pelton and M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt abruptly fired city Real Estate Officer Anthony J. Ambridge yesterday, giving him no explanation and causing several officials to protest that the city was losing a prudent manager of more than $3 billion in properties.

Ambridge, a former 2nd District city councilman and real estate appraiser, managed city-owned buildings, arranged leases for city agencies and organized sales of tax-delinquent properties. He had held the $79,000-a-year position since 1996.

"She didn't give me a reason. ... I wish she had given me a reason," said Ambridge, who said he saved the city close to $8 million in his four years as real estate officer. "We've made a lot of reforms [in the real estate office] and we're heading in the right direction, but that's the breaks of the game."

Pratt was not available for comment.

Ambridge said Pratt called him into her office about 3 p.m. yesterday. "She said, `Can you come down?' ... She said, `Things aren't working out, and you're fired at the end of the day.'"

"I love public service. People have told me for years, `Why don't you get out there and make some money?' But I really love public service. It's been good to me, but I guess it's time to move on."

Ambridge served as city councilman from 1983 to 1995, writing gay-rights bills, founding the organization Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, serving on a homeless relief advisory board and consistently winning re-election by wide margins.

He said he's not sure what his next career move will be.

Mayor Martin O'Malley praised Ambridge's abilities yesterday. "He's always been a dedicated and conscientious public servant, and he's always worked hard for the citizens of Baltimore," he said in a statement. "He's extremely smart, and he definitely knows the real estate of the city."

City and state officials were abuzz yesterday with talk about the political dimensions of Ambridge's firing.

While Pratt is sometimes mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate in 2004, Ambridge was known to be close to both O'Malley and City Council President Sheila Dixon, who also has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate.

Some political insiders were talking about the relationship between Ambridge and Pratt's campaign manager, Julius Henson.

Shortly before the filing deadline for the 1999 mayoral elections, Henson asked Ambridge to run for mayor in an effort to draw white votes away from O'Malley, according to City Hall sources. Ambridge did not run.

Ambridge replaced Henson as the city's real estate officer.

Henson managed Pratt's successful city comptroller campaign in 1995. A year later, she hired Henson to run the city's real estate office.

At the time, Henson owned 15 rental homes, mostly in poor neighborhoods, and had been cited by the city for numerous code violations dating to 1983. Henson resigned in March 1996 after three tumultuous weeks.

"I'm not surprised that she [Pratt] fired him [Ambridge]," said state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. "I don't think that they were compatible, and I think that she was looking for an opportunity to fire him. I think she made a mistake, because he is a very dedicated, very smart and very capable public servant."

Dixon said that "there have been rumors about her getting rid of Tony [Ambridge] for a year and a half."

She said she finds the dismissal unfortunate, because she believes Ambridge has saved the city money and made "tremendous improvements" in the efficiency of the city's real estate office.

"He's done a very good job, and there has been definite improvements in his department," Dixon said.

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