Monica Yant Kinney: Greene says he's sorry? Really?

Carl Greene has had a costly reign as the city housing czar.
Carl Greene has had a costly reign as the city housing czar.
Posted: August 22, 2010

Last weekend, I bet my husband that Philadelphia Housing Authority czar Carl Greene would resign by Friday. Stories of his personal financial failings, I predicted, signaled the beginning of his end.

My timing is off - as of this moment, Greene remains on vacation from his $306,370 job at the state-chartered, federally funded public housing agency - but at least I'm out only $10. PHA employees were relieved of far more, if tales of weekly payroll deductions to fund boss worship are true.

I don't know about you, but I'd love to attend the next PHA bowling bash. And I'm dying to see the oil portrait of Greene he received as a "gift" from adoring staff. What's he wearing? How is he posed? Is Carl-on-canvas high art or a glorified velvet Elvis?

In an interview Friday with my colleague Jennifer Lin, Greene expressed "personal humiliation and embarrassment" over his lapses, which include a $52,000 IRS lien, failure to pay the mortgage on his $615,000 townhouse, and sexual-harassment charges.

Lest anyone doubt his sincerity, he offered "my most humble apologies to the world." Argentina and Albania, take note.

A tale of two Carls

I was a City Hall reporter writing about urban blight and welfare in the early days of Greene's regime. I later tangled with him over columns about Jackie McDowell, an unqualified but politically connected PHA tenant Greene put in the executive suite to costly results.

The rap on Greene was, and is, that he's an effective egomaniac. A vicious visionary, a determined developer, a brutal boss.

Even the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development weighed in on the debate, in a 2002 audit dubbing Greene a "demanding supervisor" who drove "a number of executive personnel" to quit.

Politicians and advocates learned to accommodate the two Carls because he controlled zillions in federal money and the fate of the city's most vulnerable residents. Greene usually had poor people's well-being at heart but his own sainthood firmly on his brain.

In 2002, the housing chief reluctantly granted me an interview amid my probing into why McDowell, paid a $93,000 salary, continued to live in a $531-a-month PHA rowhouse.

A PR consultant said he and Greene would meet me for lunch at Susanna Foo. I thought it strange, given Greene's carefully honed up-from-the-projects image. The meal cost The Inquirer $102.66 and Greene a measure of his credibility.

Chump change

By then, PHA had already spent more than $1 million of taxpayers' money on PR pros engaged in the care and feeding of Greene's ego.

Some spinmeisters were paid to pen puff pieces about the boss. Others earned money telling PHA to ignore the press. One firm billed to decide that likening Greene to "an Olympic champion" sounded more virile than comparing him to the "Energizer Bunny."

Today, Greene gets credit for changing Philadelphia's skyline, replacing dangerous eyesores with modern mixed-income developments. But by the 1990s, nearly everyone agreed that corralling the poor in hulking high-rises was tantamount to putting them in prison.

The triumphs did not come cheaply, since Greene and PHA have been sued repeatedly by disgruntled staffers. In 2002, in one month alone, HUD issued a 73-page report about his management style and began poking into the PR bills. A year later, the federal overseers rebuked PHA for spending so much on outside attorneys.

Greene dismisses his predicament as a "personal" matter that won't affect his job, but he must know he can't hold on for long. Anyone who's spent so much time and money obsessing over perception knows the scandal ends only when the perpetrator is gone.

A clarification: In my column last Sunday about former Jenkintown tax collector Mike O'Neill, I referred to the admitted gambling addict's depositing a $32,000 casino check in a borough account in an effort to replenish money he had embezzled. The deposit was made into a public fund O'Neill controlled, but borough officials had no access to the account. Apologies for any confusion.

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