Calmly answering questions about potential conflicts of interest and his personal style, Daniel P. Henson III yesterday told a Baltimore City Council committee that he'd use his experience as a private developer to revitalize the housing department.
"The thing I bring more than anything else is my ability to sit down -- using a napkin if necessary -- and scribble down a development plan with community groups or anyone else," Mr. Henson said during a three-hour hearing before the executive nominations committee. He added that within two years he wants to be "running the best housing agency in the country."
Speaking in support of Mr. Henson's nomination as housing commissioner were representatives from the Home Builders Association of Maryland and a private and a nonprofit development company, who praised his knowledge and ability to get things done. No one testified against the nominee.
Committee Chairman Lawrence A. Bell, D-4th, said that the committee could make a recommendation on the nomination as early as this Monday's meeting.
Discussion of the conflict of interest issue, which has dogged Mr. Henson since he was named by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to replace Robert W. Hearn as housing commissioner, dominated yesterday's hearing.
The issue has been raised because the Department of Housing and Community Development disburses millions of dollars in grant money to developers and others. It also issues building permits and oversees planning and development.
But the most pointed exchanges at the hearing concerned not the conflict of interest issue but Mr. Henson's style and his role as a Schmoke political confidante.
Mr. Henson has worked in Mr. Schmoke's mayoral campaigns RTC and he has close ties to Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign manager. In political circles Mr. Henson is known as a person who speaks candidly and plays hardball politics. Mr. Henson's style has made him unpopular with some council members.
At the hearing, Councilman John L. Cain, D-1st, said he had been warned that if he voted against Mr. Henson, "there will be reprisals" and that concerns of his district would be ignored. The councilman did not say who issued the warning.
"I can't imagine why someone would tell you something like that," Mr. Henson replied, adding, "Look, I don't hold long grudges."
Earlier, Mr. Henson explained his agreement -- outlined in a March 12 letter to the city's board of ethics -- to divest himself of any interest in Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, a prominent local developer, and to not participate in any decision involving the company for two years.
Appearing with Mr. Henson was Michael A. Millemann, a highly regarded lawyer and professor of ethics at the University of Maryland School of Law who advised the nominee on the conflict of interest issue. Mr. Millemann said that Mr. Henson's agreement not only goes beyond the city's ethics law but "frankly exceeds the requirements of all ethics laws with which I am familiar."