"Oh yes, Susan Henderson has me pegged. Despite the thousands of dollars I shovel to Sierra Madre every year in taxes for the 'priviledge' of living here, I am an ingrate and a freeloader. Remind me to walk my dog by some Mountain Views News paper racks soon." - Case
For the couple of years I've been writing this blog I have often struggled to come to grips with the out-sized persona of a prominent local nuisance usually known as Susan Henderson. Or Harriet Poole depending on which incarnation of her life's earthly essence you're pondering. Susan's fraudulent claims to vast local importance, her absurdly inflated self-regard, and general hauteur, all coupled with an inability to see anything in any way except that which best suits her own personal agendas, is the stuff of local legend. And how else does one describe all that than to conjure up the wheezing ghost of W.C. Fields?
Though, of course, for W.C. Fields these attributes were only a small part of what were many entertaining stage personas. While with Susan it seems to be the work of a lifetime of uncritical devotion.
So what is the source of Susan's presumptuous grandiosity? Apparently it is a small local weekly throwaway news rag she publishes called The Mountain Views News. Perhaps when you're downtown you will have seen it sailing by on a windy day. Or, when using the facilities at Memorial Park, you'll notice it on the floor where the day laborers make use of such things when the usual remedies have run out. A collection of biased opinions, hopelessly indignant op-eds, news slanted to further the interests of benefactors both governmental and personal, all the while vilifying anyone who does not fit into her idiosyncratic conception of what represents proper society in town.
Which, to this jaundiced eye, are predominantly smalltown well-leisured club people who somehow have come to believe, like Susan, that their affairs are at the heart of all activity in town. The proof of this entitlement being that their pictures and affairs can often be observed in the Mountain Views News.
And for those who do not pass muster with this reigning Mahatma of Mayberry Magnificence? The kind of disdain you might expect from a Queen Victoria, or Prince Albert should he ever escape his can. Attitude being, as Mr. Fields pointed out, everything.
Yesterday a fine example of Susan's signature serial haughtiness erupted in her paper like the recurrent rosacea on a drunk's nose. The subject of this self-privileged ire was those few brave and tireless volunteers who are contesting this City's suspect claims that it requires a whopping 40% rate increase to sustain basic water service here in Sierra Madre. People who took on the very difficult task of gathering the 1,900 rate payer signatures it will take to get the good people of this City the review they'll need to remedy this rushed and poorly conceived scheme. One that apparently has more to do with raising the matching funds necessary to win a rather large EPA grant than it does any as yet unspecified pipe repairs.
Here is a passage from Susan's unfortunate rant:
Once again certain residents of Sierra Madre have gathered together to stage yet another protest about something. This time its' (sic) about the proposed water rate hikes. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the right to free speech. However, I don't believe that anyone should use that right to deceive and mislead. And recently, in an effort to garner 50% plus 1 of the water rate payer signatures against the rate hike, deception has become the name of the game ... And therein lies the real problem. This is not a game. Everyone that I have ever met in this town has always said they want to maintain the "village character," "small town charm" and "independence" that Sierra Madre is priviledged (sic) to have. Everyone wants it, but there are some who don't want to pay for it.
When you consider the amount of property taxes it takes to own a home in Sierra Madre, along with the fact that we're already paying some of the highest water and UUT rates in the entire Los Angeles County area, to suggest that the homeowners of Sierra Madre are freeloaders is ridiculous. And maybe if Susan actually owned a home here she would know that. That this kind of carelessly issued and mean spirited abuse is being used to justify raising water rates in a town where so many residents and businesses have already been hit hard by the worst economic collapse in 80 years defies reason. But again, how would she know?
As long time witnesses to Susan's colicky outbursts can attest, when things look dicey for those whose interests she represents (in this case City Hall which, for the record, pays her considerable amounts of money to publish legal advertising), she just gets medieval. No reasoned discourse on the issues, no carefully considered arguments, no examples of her claims. Nothing like that. Just name calling and ad hominem attacks, all larded with the somewhat pompous assumption that most believe as she does, and that her opinions actually account for something. After all, in her mind these "certain residents" are hardly worth even that little effort from so esteemed a personage as herself.
But for Susan to claim that others are being less than aboveboard when just that sort of behavior once cost her one of the highest ranking political positions in the State of California is, well, a very delicious irony.
Here, in its entirety, is a front page article that appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and its sister paper The Examiner on May 25, 1995. It details Susan's dramatic and devastating fall from the #2 ranking job in the Democratic Party of California. Her denouement was so complete and final that she was never to occupy so high a position again.
Demo leader resigns under fire. Questions over state party officials resume, credit card expenditures -- H. Susan Henderson, onetime Republican turned executive director of the California Democratic Party, has resigned her $78,000-per-year post amid controversy over alleged resume-pumping and questionable expenditures on a party credit card.
State party chair Bill Press announced Henderson's departure Wednesday, that same day The Examiner reported that she had registered to vote as a Republican barely two years before taking the $78,000-per-year Democratic Party post.
The Examiner also reported that the University of California had no record of awarding Henderson a law degree and an MBA, as she claimed on her resume, and that a Sunnyvale business executive said Henderson had failed to repay a $2,000 loan.
A confidential news source said that California Democrats, who face the crucial 1996 election with a deficit of $1 million, would pay Henderson $25,000 in exchange for her resignation.
In a press release, Press said he had ordered an audit of the state party's books, after receiving an anonymous letter contending that Henderson had improperly run up some $3,000 in spending on a party credit card for items including lingerie and a trip to Disneyland.
Press said the audit found no wrongdoing, but said the matter had become so emotionally draining for Henderson that she decided to resign. He said she would work as a consultant for the party for an unspecified period.
Henderson did not return phone calls. Press declined to respond to questions about whether he had known about Henderson's life as a Republican when he hired her or what steps he had taken to verify her resume. He also refused to comment on the reported $25,000 payment.
If Press was mum, state Republicans were chatty about what they saw as financial disarray at the top of the Democratic organization.
"My take would be that Bill Clinton and Bill Press attended the same school of financial mismanagement," quipped Victoria Herrington, spokeswoman for the state GOP. Referring to Henderson, she said, "This is one case where we Republicans don't mind a defection."
San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto, a vice chair of the Democratic Party, said she was shocked to learn that Henderson had so recently been a member of the GOP.
"She never mentioned that - she has posed as a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat," Alioto said. "To me, it's much more shocking to find out that she was a Republican than to find out about the disputed resume."
Henderson, a former Oakland business executive, was hired by Press in 1993 as a deputy executive director for Southern California, then was promoted to the top job last year.
She presented an impressive resume: regional coordinator for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, East Bay field director for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's successful 1992 campaign, former president of the East Bay Area Club of Negro Business and Professional Women.
But other parts of the resume don't appear to check out.
Henderson states that she holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio State University, but a spokeswoman said Ohio State had never granted a degree to Harriet Susan Henderson or Harriett Poole, Henderson's maiden name.
Henderson's resume also says that she holds an "M.B.A./J.D." from the University of California, without specifying a campus.
Spokesmen at UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and UC-Davis, the three UC campuses that have both law and business schools, said no such degrees had been issued to H. Susan Henderson or Harriet Poole.
Alameda County voter records show that in 1989, Henderson registered as a Republican at an Oakland residence, then registered again as a Republican in 1991 when she moved to another Oakland address.
In March 1992, when the Boxer campaign was getting under way, Henderson changed her registration to Democrat, the records show.
As party executive director, Henderson sat in on top-level strategy meetings and sensitive discussions about the Democrats' plans for winning California for President Clinton in 1996.
In his written statement, Press complained that the anonymous letter about Henderson was "disgusting character assassination," but gave no details about why he had concluded that she had spent party funds properly.
Party credit-card records show that in a three-month period in 1995 she ran up $12,000 in charges, including $74 at a Victoria's Secret lingerie shop in Washington, D.C., $220 at a golf course in Palm Springs, $137 at a Los Angeles beauty-supply outlet and $26 at a laundry.
If, as Susan Henderson says, "deception (is) the name of the game," it is one that left her a loser. Unfortunately, it also resulted in her eventually landing here.