Feature: The Devil & Carl Greene

Is he a serial sexual harasser and tyrannical boss, as some of his former employees allege? Or is he the most effective public-housing leader in the history of Philadelphia, as he and his defenders contend? Or could Carl Greene, somehow, be both?

 

Meanwhile, Fumo took Greene aside after one neighborhood meeting to tell him, “If this doesn’t work out, we’re going to take over the PHA, and we’re going to blow it up.”

Greene was undaunted. He understood that Fumo, Street, Rendell — they all wanted what was right from one perspective or another. Then there was his perspective. “I wanted them to allow me to do it my way — proper procurements, bids, selection of contractors, and protection of residents,” he says. “My way. I’m the trained professional in public housing.”

But Spring Garden — not to mention the mess of an agency that he inherited and the politics he had to wade through — all that came at him when he was still commuting from Detroit. Before Carl Greene was even living in Philadelphia. Which makes you wonder: Who would even want that job?

CARL GREENE, you might say, was born into it. He grew up in public housing in Washington, D.C., the seventh of eight children. The older six had one father, Greene had another, and his younger brother had a third. “The last time I saw my father,” Greene says, “I was three or four years old. I couldn’t tell you what he looked like.”

He always felt like he was on his own. But he says he was “good at resource development”: When he was seven years old, Greene collected bottles in a little red wagon to return for deposits. He delivered papers. He had summer jobs.

Greene got the attention he craved through school and sports, and he was very good at both. In fact, he was a high-school football star, a linebacker who by his senior year was receiving letters from schools, feelers for scholarships, maybe his ticket out of poverty. But a week after being named local high-school player of the week by the Washington Post, Greene hurt his arm in practice. Pushed by coaches to suit up for a game, he severed nerves in his shoulder and lost the use of his arm. Over the years, it has atrophied and now hangs, with his hand, tiny and curled, turned out from his body. Eventually, Greene would sue his high school and win $1.5 million.

The injury spun him into a severe depression. There was no one to help him — his mother had never even bothered to attend one of his football games when he could play. Greene cobbled enough aid together to attend the University of Maryland, but he was isolated there, too. He didn’t date. He didn’t join a fraternity. He didn’t feel “a connection to the rest of the world physically.”

His junior year, Greene headed to Key West during spring break to visit an old neighborhood friend, then stayed for another month, hanging out on the beach, eating crabs. He was still severely depressed, and at risk of simply giving up. But he returned to the University of Maryland, finished his degree in 18 months, got a management accounting job with the Washington, D.C. lottery commission and then one with the D.C. housing authority. He’d decided to run hard toward success. Greene would move on to the housing authority in Atlanta, then become the head of housing in Detroit in 1995 at age 39.

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