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HUD's inspector general is playing the race card, not Mayor Schmoke


WITH the recent announcement that housing programs in Baltimore and two other cities headed by black Democratic mayors will be the subject of federal investigations, it's clear that Republicans want to degrade black elected officials and pursue their long time goal to abolish the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Susan Gaffney, HUD's inspector general, intentionally or not, plays directly into those Republican plans with her planned $9 million, multi-year probes of Baltimore, New Orleans and San Francisco at the insistence of the Republican-controlled Congress.

Ms. Gaffney has yet to explain why, out of the nation's 3,400 housing authorities, she selected three with black mayors, black housing commissioners -- all Democrats -- to look for waste, fraud and corruption.

Ms. Gaffney has denied political and racial motivations. She also has denied discriminating against a high-level black official in her office who formally complained that he wrongly was passed over for a job that went to a white official from another HUD division.

Flooded with leaks

Findings from Ms. Gaffney's multi-year probes -- or selected leaks from them -- would certainly be used by the media and politicians vying with Democratic candidates for elected office in 2000, including the office of president. Ms. Gaffney says there will be no leaks, but even the cities selected for the probes were leaked.

Mayors Kurt L. Schmoke, Marc Morial of New Orleans and Willie Brown of San Francisco are expected to play major roles in the next presidential election in keeping their respective states in the Democratic column; it will be a year when the GOP feels it has a shot at the White House because no popular incumbent is running.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, a California Republican, promoted the probe and has said he expects to give Ms. Gaffney office even more than the $9 million authorized.

The National Conference of Black Mayors and the U.S. Conference of Mayors have criticized the criteria for selecting cities.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III pointed out that the Baltimore housing authority's last HUD rating was 71.30, up from 63.86 in 1996.

And it holds an "A" ranking in areas such as crime tracking, non-emergency work orders and resident involvement. Conversely, Los Angeles' housing authority is bigger than Baltimore's and has a poor HUD rating, but it also has a white, Republican mayor.

During her testimony on Capitol Hill last week, Ms. Gaffney would give no details of why the three cities were selected.

But the investigation, which will include FBI agents and U.S. Justice Department officials, is bound to uncover something.

As Mayor Schmoke, a former prosecutor, said, given three years and millions of dollars, any inspector general can find something wrong.

Mayoral point

Mr. Schmoke has been severely criticized by the media for saying that there's something wrong about picking only black mayors, black housing commissioners and Democrats to expose to this sort of embarrassment and pain.

But if he didn't strongly protest this sort of un-American selectivity involving his city, he would not be worthy of his office.

Moses J. Newson, a free-lance writer, writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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