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Henson is viewed as 'the enforcer'


In articles March 5 and 6 about Daniel P. Henson III, Baltimore's new housing commissioner, The Sun reported incorrectly that Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse Inc. receives millions each year from the federal government in loans for housing projects.

In fact, the company has received $12.5 million in governmenloans since the early 1980s, most of which was awarded prior to the beginning of the Schmoke administration.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Since its inception 25 years ago, the Department of Housing and Community Development has been run by architects, urban planners, bureaucrats and academics.

But Daniel P. Henson III, the developer Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has named to head the influential agency, is known just as much for power politics as for his work on housing issues.

While some elected officials and housing advocates welcome Mr. Henson's appointment, critics worry that his role as a key operative in the mayor's political machine may make him an intimidating force.

"He's been very heavy-handed as a political operative for Schmoke and as such has made lots of enemies and lots of friends," said Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd. "And politics shouldn't play any role in that office."

Even Larry S. Gibson, Mr. Schmoke's campaign manager and political godfather, has acknowledged the function Mr. Henson has performed for the mayor.

"Dan is sort of our political secretary of state," Mr. Gibson said in a June 1991 interview with The Sun. "He pretty much is for our campaign the one who works out our political arrangement with other elected officials and has done so a long time."

While Mr. Henson may be considered the secretary of state, he is not always viewed as the ambassador of good will.

Several elected officials, and other individuals knowledgeable about city politics, described the political Mr. Henson with such terms as "Larry's hatchet man," "a master intimidator," and "a guy who plays hard ball."

Those individuals, all of whom declined to be identified for fear of reprisal, complained that Mr. Henson is "the enforcer" who threatens to withhold the support of Mr. Schmoke if they offer anything less than full support for the mayor.

Mr. Ambridge said that Mr. Schmoke was aware of those concerns and told him Thursday -- after the announcement of Mr. Henson's appointment -- that he "will 'defang' him by addressing those issues."

Yet a man who plays hardball may be required to transform the troubled HCD. The powerful agency, which suffers from low morale and disorganization, is responsible for administering millions of dollars in grant money, planning and development, and building permits and inspections.

Mr. Henson, 49, takes over for Robert W. Hearn, whom Mr. Schmoke removed from his $89,600-a-year post Feb. 22, after fierce criticism of his leadership of both the housing department and Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which oversees the city's 18,300 public housing units.

Mr. Schmoke asked Mr. Henson last month to look into public housing problems at the height of the criticism of Mr. Hearn's lax management of the Housing Authority and HCD's failure to spend $42 million in federal Community Development Block Grant money on city projects.

Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's press secretary, said he did not know the extent of Mr. Henson's involvement in the mayor's 1987 and 1991 campaigns, but defended the appointment.

"He happens to be a very qualified person to take over HCD, and just because he happens to be very involved in politics as well shouldn't disqualify him for a post that he is very qualified for," Mr. Coleman said.

Mr. Henson has deflected criticism, saying, "Having made my decision, my intent now is to build this into the best housing department in the country, and I'm going to stick with it till I'm done."

Mr. Henson is president of the Henson Co. Inc., a development consulting firm often linked as minority business partner with Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc., the politically well-connected developer-contractor that receives millions of dollars in federal housing money for city projects each year.

Even before starting his own company in August 1991, Mr. Henson was employed by Struever Bros. as a senior developer and vice president -- a post from which he resigned this week.

Mr. Schmoke said Thursday that lawyers for Mr. Henson have been working with city officials on ways for the housing commissioner-designee to divest himself of multiple investment interests -- including stock holdings in Struever Bros.

Within hours of Mr. Schmoke's announcement, many officials raised concerns about Mr. Henson's possible conflicts. Others, however, such as City Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, chair of the council's Housing Committee, praised Mr. Schmoke's selection.

"He has the kind of drive and stamina that he'll move ahead and try and get the things done that we've been trying to urge them to do," Mrs. Hall said. "I think he's a good pick."

A city native and longtime West Baltimore resident, Mr. Henson is a well-known political fixture who has been billed as a national expert on minority business.

Mr. Henson is former director of the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency, an arm of the Commerce Department.

He was director of the Greater Baltimore Committee's minority business development committee.

He later became chairman of the Development Credit Fund Inc., a GBC initiative that was a government-private sector venture to provide capital to minority-owned businesses.

He later was vice president of G&M; Oil Co., a now-defunct company, before joining Struever Bros.

In 1984, when Mr. Henson was vice president of G&M; Oil, the city's housing department gave the local minority-owned company a $1.25 million federal loan to open an oil terminal in Wagners Point in South Baltimore.

After Mr. Henson left the company, the oil terminal went out of business and the city lost $1.23 million on the unpaid loan.

The state lost another $1 million on a loan guarantee when the company defaulted on its first mortgage with the Savings Bank of Baltimore.

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