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Housing chief reappointed amid criticism


Department of Housing and Community Development Commissioner Robert W. Hearn survived a confirmation vote in the City Council last night, but not before being criticized as a weak leader who is ill-suited to perform his job.

Mr. Hearn was among 10 nominees of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to win reappointment last night.

But Mr. Hearn did not get through unblemished. Council President Mary Pat Clarke said Mr. Hearn is unfit to pilot an agency, which she described as a "flagship" of city government. "Perhaps we need less of a gentleman and more of a fighter," Ms. Clarke said.

Councilman John L. Cain, D-1st, said he was concerned about the leadership Mr. Hearn provided HCD during his first four-year term. The agency has battled the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development over the use of block grant money and has been criticized by housing advocates as a listless and unresponsive arm of city government.

"There is a lack of leadership in that department," Mr. Cain said. "I don't see it. The vision is blind."

Despite the criticism, Mr. Hearn's defenders, who include the mayor, say the city's housing agency has done a good job in the face of dwindling federal support. And that was the argument offered by Councilman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, chairman of the council's Executive Appointments Committee. "The problem is resources," Mr. Bell said.

Mr. Hearn was confirmed by a voice vote, with only Ms. Clarke and Mr. Cain voting against him.

The other nominees confirmed last night included: City Solicitor Neal M. Janey; Public Works Director George G. Balog; Transportation Commissioner Herman Williams Jr.; and Philip H. Stewart, director of the Office for Children and Youth.

In other business, Ms. Clarke introduced a bill that would outlaw small glassine and plastic bags in the city. The bags, which are used legitimately to hold stamps and jewelry, are also favorites of drug dealers, who use them to bag cocaine, crack and marijuana.

Under the proposal, the possession of bags so small they can't hold anything weighing more than one-eighth ounce would be outlawed.

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