This is the story of a rather unfortunate case. Someone who at one time occupied the 2nd highest ranking position in the California State Democratic Party, yet fell to an ignominy so final and devastating that she would never return to anything approaching her former glory. Hers was a position of trust that brought with it considerable prestige and influence. A job that involved helping to plan such heady things as the 1996 re-election campaign of President Bill Clinton, as well as those of Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.
She had the ear of the powerful and elite, yet when disgrace came her way, she found herself alone. Her sins were both damning and revealing, and when she was cast out none of her well-connected acquaintances even lifted a finger to help. This apparently was a woman who had made few real friends.
So what caused the demise of H. Susan Henderson's once meteoric political career? Here is how a May of 1995 San Francisco Examiner report (click here) described what happened:
Demo Leader Resigns Under Fire: 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, the 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 article then described one of the more damning allegations that had been made against Ms. Henderson. The Examiner verified that she had indeed engaged in the rather ignominious practice of "resume pumping." Which basically means fibbing about your education and work credentials to get a job.
Henderson states that she holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio State University, but a spokesman said Ohio State had never granted a degree to Harriet Susan Henderson or Harriet 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 campuses that have both law and business schools, said no such degrees had been issued to H. Susan Henderson or Harriet Poole.
Of course, it was the next juicy little item that attracted the greatest amount of attention.
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.
Almost more than we need to know.
After having been unceremoniously thrown out of her high Democratic Party office for the offenses described above, H. Susan Henderson apparently wandered forgotten though the political wilderness of California. And while we have no records of her activities during the decade that followed, we are vividly aware of one very melancholy fact. She eventually ended up here in Sierra Madre.
At the very depths of the political barrel are those operatives who eke out a marginal living serving the needs of whatever interests are willing to pay their way. Persons with no real loyalties or ideals, these bottom feeders trick their services out to whoever it is that will punch their meal ticket that month. And today, as the publisher of a fiscally dubious weekly called the Mountain Views News, that kind of activity appears to be what occupies the time and energy of H. Susan Henderson.
Apparently engaged by local real estate hustlers intent on breaking down a long standing resistance to unwanted high-density development in Sierra Madre, California, Ms. Henderson serves up a nearly weekly diet of distortion and innuendo against those who would stand in the way of the interests she currently represents.
A case in point can be found in the August 7, 2010 edition of Henderson's paper. Sierra Madre City Clerk Nancy Shollenberger, a long time supporter of the preservationist cause so hated by Ms. Henderson and her interested enablers, was subjected to a front page excoriation over what was termed "excessive compensation." Here is a passage from her article that actually invokes the Bell Scandal to make its overheated and politically motivated point:
The Sierra Madre City Manager's salary was not the concern for those who had viewed the salaries on the Sierra Madre website. What seemed to concern some residents (Ed: none are named) was that all elected officials except one receive a stipend of $3,000 per year. The exception is Sierra Madre City Clerk, Nancy Shollenberger, who receives annual compensation of $10,800 ...
Now the ludicrousness of this comparison should be obvious to all. As we know, certain officials in the City of Bell were being paid ridiculously high salaries. As an example, the City Manager there received an annual salary of $800,000. To claim that Sierra Madre's City Clerk, by making under $11,000 dollars a year after 25 years of uninterrupted service to the community, is somehow connected to this scandal is just about as absurdly dishonest as it gets. You almost have to wonder if Ms. Henderson hadn't been hit on the head with a golf ball during one of her numerous visits to the links.
Another example of Ms. Henderson's manic devotion to the development cause is her attacks on the mostly retired and fixed income residents of Sierra Madre who recently organized opposition to a nearly 40% water rate hike. Sprung on the City's residents right after the April election (after it could have had any influence on the vote), this hike would have gone into effect almost immediately, irregardless of the fact that the country is currently in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Few doubted that the massive water infrastructure program ($18 million dollars!) mandating this large increase was - and remains - development driven.
Henderson's attack piece, which appears on the Op-Ed page of the same edition we discussed above, spares no effort in vilifying the hard working and caring volunteers who successfully backed down a City Council hellbent on unfairly taking their money. Bear witness here to some of Ms. Henderson's disturbing and harsh language:
"Using the tried and tested dirty tactics method of instilling fear by suggesting that people would be paying unconscionable water rates for water, signatures were collected very often, unscrupulously."
"We were suddenly covered by a dark cloud that we didn't see coming and by the time we recognized it, many were shocked and disappointed. It was like the plot of a B rated (sic) movie."
"However, if we aren't careful, at the very next opportunity, there will be another such disingenuous, dishonest and deceptive attempt to gain the public's support."
You'd think Henderson was describing nazi skinheads rather than retired fixed income Sierra Madreans engaging in the very American and Democratic process of redressing a grievance with their local government.
The sad irony here is that many of the residents who protested the water rate hike, some of whom have lived in town for over 60 years, are being subjected to these ugly and patently dishonest attacks in a paper that is essentially supported by their tax dollars.
Does H. Susan Henderson Speak for Mayor Joe Mosca and City Manager Elaine Aguilar?
Because Henderson's "Mountain Views News" is dependent for its survival on the tax money it receives for running Sierra Madre's legal advertising, the City should be able to exert some influence over its crude excesses. The kind of language that is used by this paper to vilify the residents these officials claim to be working for is unheard of in the United States. Look anywhere in this country and you will not see the kinds of nasty printed attacks on taxpayers we see in Henderson's paper. Yet City Hall has chosen to not only remain silent, but in many ways offer support for her efforts. Besides paying for her services, H. Susan Henderson apparently has unlimited access to City Hall, along with the City Manager and staff.
I believe we now must assume that when H. Susan Henderson publishes her attacks on the residents of Sierra Madre, she is doing so with the interests of Mayor Joe Mosca and City Manager Elaine Aguilar in mind. We apparently live in a City where government is at war with its own citizens. People who are being repeatedly terrorized by City Hall's chosen adjudicated newspaper, the one they give our money to.
And to me that looks very much like official sanction.
(Ed: This article was originally posted on 8/10/2010)