Dream Team? Comptroller-Elect’s Transition Team Raises Eyebrows


By Van Smith

Published by City Paper, Nov. 29, 1995

Comptroller-elect Joan Pratt has chosen Julius Henson, her campaign manager, and state Senator Larry Young to help lead a team of about 25 people that will direct her transition from private life as a certified public accountant to the holder of the third-highest position in city government. Both men contributed to Pratt’s campaign. Henson also is widely believed to be Pratt’s choice for city real-estate officer, an appointment that has been vacant since Arthur Held’s term expired on June 30.

Henson, who chairs the transition team, ran Pratt’s campaign against retired state Senator Julian Lapides, the early favorite who lost the Democratic primary in September by nearly 10,000 votes. In addition to volunteering as campaign manager, Henson gave $1,400 to the Pratt campaign, plus another $1,065 that was donated by one of his companies, the Wild Geese Company. (These totals are based on campaign-finance reports covering the period up until two weeks before the September primary. As of November 24, Pratt had not filed a copy of her October 27 report in Baltimore, which she is required to do under state election laws.)

About the real-estate-office position, Henson says Pratt “has not made any decisions about that yet. If she does offer it to me, I’ll consider it.” The city real-estate officer is responsible for the disposition of all city real estate, including acquisitions and sales, leases, contracts, and tax sales of properties with delinquent accounts.

Pratt and Henson were business partners in a real-estate investment company, Henson & Pratt, Inc., and in 2112 Etting Street Limited Partnership, among other partnerships. Through these concerns, Pratt and Henson together owned nine residential properties. In August, Pratt transferred her stock in the partnerships to Henson (CP, 8/9/1995).

The properties were in various states of disrepair in August, when Pratt and Henson each owned a 50 percent stake in the businesses. A recent visit to three properties on the 2100 block of Etting Street found two of them occupied by tenants who complained of Henson’s unresponsiveness to problems at their houses, which included rat holes in the kitchen, holes in the ceiling, unrepaired fire damage, and a jury-rigged furnace. The third house is vacant.

Though neither Pratt nor Henson will confirm it for the press, sources close to both say they have been romantically involved for several years. Mary Henson, Julius’ mother, says the diamond ring worn by Joan Pratt is a gift from Julius and confirms their romantic relationship.

Mary Henson’s own relationship with her son has been difficult; in February 1993, she filed battery and attempted-theft charges against Julius Henson. She was 63 at the time. Her son was acquitted of the charges in June of that year.

In 1974, at age 25, Henson ran in the Democratic primary for clerk of the circuit court. He got more than 17,000 votes in a citywide race, but lost to John Hubble. Asked whether he gained any lessons from the experience that helped him in managing the Pratt campaign, he says, “Not really.” Henson says he doesn’t remember why he sought the office, except that “it was winnable, I guess.”

Young, who chairs the team’s committee on the office of the comptroller, was an early backer of Pratt’s campaign (and a $250 contributor). Henson says, “He may have been the only [state] senator who did not support Jack Lapides, so he has been a friend of the campaign.”

Young came up in politics under the tutelage of U.S. Representative Parren Mitchell in the 1970s and has emerged as a powerful West Baltimore political figure whose campaign organization has delivered votes effectively for Bill Clinton, Parris Glendening, Kurt Schmoke, and now Joan Pratt (who is also from West Baltimore). He chairs the Senate Executive Nominations Committee and the Health Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee.

Along with his political prominence, Young has been the subject of Baltimore City police attention over the years. As chronicled in David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, Young was involved in a series of odd incidents in 1988: He injured his political aide’s arm by beating him with a tree limb, and he falsely reported being kidnapped, a misdemeanor charge of which he was acquitted after much embarrassing publicity.

In 1990, Young became a central figure (though officially not a suspect) in the murder investigation of his close personal friend, the Reverend Marvin Moore. The murder case is still open.

More recently, Young was caught up in the Willie Runyon political-fund-raising scandal during last year’s legal battle over the gubernatorial election. Young did not disclose the fact that he was an employee of Runyon’s American Ambulance and Oxygen Service, Inc., in his financial-disclosure form on file with the state ethics commission in Towson, in spite of the fact that he sits on a subcommittee that considers healthcare legislation that might affect Runyon’s business. Young retired from American Ambulance in June.

According to Henson, Pratt’s transition team is staffed voluntarily with professionals who have expertise in the areas of human resources, audits, real estate, communications, insurance, ethics, governmental relationships, public relations and the historical role of the comptroller, and it will help arrange a proposed conference on economic empowerment and a proposed citizens advisory review board to scrutinize waste, fraud, and abuse. Each of these “areas of perusal” is assigned to a committee of the team.

As an example of what expertise the transition-team members bring to the table, Henson explains that “the woman looking at the city’s paging system, which falls under communication, she sells pagers to area hospitals.”

No other members of the Pratt transition team have been named. However, Henson confirmed that he and two other men have met with members of the city’s office of real estate to discuss its functions. One of the men identified by Henson, Arnold Hawkins, is an attorney with Harbor Title Guarantee Company, and gave $1,000 to the Pratt campaign before the September primary.

Asked why he was asked to chair the transition team, Henson says, “If I was smart enough to win the election, I guess the comptroller-elect thought I was smart enough to chair the transition team.” Pratt did not return phone calls seeking comment for this story, and Henson said the comptroller-elect would not speak to City Paper.

Pikesville Punch

I have a proper stone jug I’ve used in the past to age batches of Scotch Punch, using a recipe from Here’s How.

This time, though, I’m going to use two bottles of Pikesville Supreme Straight Rye Whiskey instead of scotch. Pikesville Punch sure has a ring to it. I’ll make some other adjustments, like maybe using strong mint green tea, cardamom pods, and maple syrup.

Such extravagant use of a disappearing species – they don’t bottle this whiskey anymore, and I’ve hoarded a depleting supply – is in keeping with the tenor of our times. I look forward to sharing liberally from my jug.

Should be ready for the holidays.

Pump It Up: The Culinary Art of Experimenting With Pumpkins

By Van Smith

First published in City Paper, Oct. 9, 2013.

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Stoop-sitting with pumpkin milk. (Photo: Van Smith)

As a boy, I never really made the connection that pumpkins were food. They were decorative fall accessories, the preparation of which involved festive, messy fun with big knives and spoons and Magic Markers. Though I loved pumpkin pie, I’d only seen the filling come out of cans or already in ready-to-heat-and-eat pies. Thankfully, as a man who likes to cook, over the years I made the connection.

Not being a pie-maker, my efforts have focused on dishes. Given my haphazard, experimental culinary style, which relies on educated guesses and eschews measurements and time-keeping, the results have been mixed. The experiments are worth sharing, especially with those who also are repulsed by precision cooking.

My first effort completely surprised me. A friend gave me a largish pumpkin, maybe 5 pounds, telling me it was specifically for cooking. Having removed the seeds and pulp, I stuffed it with a mixture of loose sausage, vegetables, and spices. After baking it at 350 degrees F until the skin turned a nice shade of ocher and the top started to sag a little, I took it out and let it rest—and found that I could pull the skin off in large shreds, leaving a perfect orb of bright-orange pumpkin meat. The presentation, resting atop a bed of wild rice on a large serving plate, was a mouthwatering prelude to its delectable destruction for plating.

Last year, though, I failed miserably. After baking a large leftover pumpkin from the Halloween-decorating rituals, I rudely discovered that not all pumpkins are worth cooking. While carving pumpkins are edible, their thin, easy-to-carve rinds bear less meat and meat that is stringier and more bitter than the one’s marketed as “pie pumpkins.” After preparing pumpkin soup in a hot kitchen, involving much messy labor with a Cuisinart, I ended up with a huge batch of bitter, yellowish glop that ended up in the trash can.

This year, though, I went wild with pie pumpkins. Without really meaning to, I ended up with more and more of them of assorted sizes over recent weeks and decided that if I didn’t start cooking with them, the house would be overrun. So I started winging it. The first round produced a Crockpot full of a pumpkin-lamb soup and a bowl of saged, salted pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top.

The first step was to put one of two 32-ounce boxes of vegetable stock, a bunch of fresh sage, and two pieces of lemongrass into a Crockpot set on high. Then I scooped out the pumpkin, separating and cleaning the seeds of pulp. I coated the inside surface of the empty pumpkin with olive oil, put the cap back on, and put it in a 350-degree oven.

The potatoes and pumpkin seeds were each destined for their own baking pan. The purple and yellow fingerling potatoes were cut in small pieces, coated with olive oil, and baked in the oven until they had nice, crispy skins. The pumpkin seeds, also coated with olive oil, were baked to a light brown and transferred to a bowl lined with a paper towel to cool off, and later seasoned with a few pinches of ground sage and sea salt.

The ground lamb, a pound or two, was cooked in a skillet, and the juices poured off. Then I took the sage and lemongrass out of the Crockpot, turned it back to low, and added the potatoes, lamb, and some quartered radishes.

By this time, the pumpkin’s baked meat was soft. After letting it cool to the touch, I separated the skin from the meat, which was put through a Cuisinart in batches, adding stock from the other 32-ounce box of stock, transforming it into a smooth, pourable mixture that was added to the Crockpot and stirred thoroughly. After letting it cook on low for another hour or so, I added some salt to taste and ladled it into bowls, setting out the pumpkin seeds for diners to sprinkle on top.

Bottom line: It was good, filling, and nutritious.

But I still had a bunch of pumpkins laying around. I had learned how the American colonists cooked with pumpkins by filling them with milk, honey, and spices, and baking them in a fire. I’d use an oven instead, and I’d turn one of the big uncooked pumpkins into a samovar-like serving container, with a tap punched near the bottom. The little ones, with straws, would make drinking cups.

I hollowed out a big pumpkin, carved a little hole to insert a tap that a friend got from a brewer, and set it aside for later. Then I hollowed out another big one for baking, put in a large dollop of honey, about 6 ounces of coconut milk, and topped it off with whole milk. Then the ground spices were added: a few dashes each of cardamom, cinnamon, allspice, clove, and nutmeg. I did the same with the little pumpkin-cups with proportionately smaller amounts of ingredients, and all the pumpkins went into the oven—which soon made the whole house smell amazing.

When they were done—but not so done that the pumpkins started to sag—I took them out of the oven, removed the tops, stirred the liquid, and let the pumpkins cool. I transferred the pumpkin-milk from the big, cooked pumpkin to the other, uncooked big pumpkin with the tap.

Like chai, which this pumpkin milk resembles, it can be served hot or cold. Try to save and chill some of the pumpkin milk (not so easy if you add rum to it), because it can be blended with the leftover cooked pumpkins to make . . . pumpkin smoothies!

For this, cut up the already-cooked pumpkins in big pieces, put them in pans, and bake them a bit more, meat-side up, until the meat is soft. Chill the skinned meat and put it in a blender with carrots, apples, ice, and the spiced pumpkin milk. If I had the time, I’d have this for breakfast every day.

All of this is time-consuming and involves a hot kitchen. But, hey, most festive food does—and, even if you fail, at least you’ve used up some of those pumpkins cluttering up your countertop.

The Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race Is In Town

Dashing out on my kayak between errands today paid off: that there’s the Liberty Clipper, getting ready to berth in Baltimore before Thursday’s start of the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race. Back in 1997, when I covered the race with late photographer Sam Holden, we sailed on this schooner as guests of owner, Greg Muzzy. It was a dramatic excursion, with actual blood on the decks. Here’s Sam’s photo of me – he’s reflected in my sunglasses – looking as if I’d just seen the Buddha:

The weather is so prime today that presumably most of the arriving schooners are still sailing, but a few are around. Too bad they don’t berth in Fells Point anymore.

Lynx, out of Portsmouth, NH, has some lovely detail: