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?

CARL GREENE CAN REALLY TALK. He’s been gone from Philadelphia for a few months now, but on this day a couple of weeks before Christmas, he shows up at his lawyer’s office near City Hall, materializing from his hideout in Maryland. Greene’s a bulky man in a dark gray suit, and at first his hooded eyes and wide mouth seem set in a smirk, as if he’s thinking, What do you want? But Carl Greene needs to talk. He needs to explain what he did for the people of Philadelphia.

“I probably relocated several thousand families in the time I was here. I’m talking four to five thousand families in the city of Philadelphia,” he says. “No one had ever done right by these people before — all community leaders wanted was to take care of themselves and their families. And no one really had the skill and commitment to turn around a mammoth housing authority like this ….”

The words go on, spinning rapidly and easily from Carl Greene, and they can be a little hard to take, at least if the allegations that have emerged about him in the past few months — which have cost him his job as head of the Philadelphia Housing Authority — are true. He’s been accused of sexually harassing women who work for him — charges he denies. PHA is being investigated by HUD and Congress for how it spent taxpayer dollars under Greene’s watch. He’s also been accused of throwing lavish parties for himself that employees paid for, and of being a nasty, overly demanding, vindictive boss. These things, too, he says are untrue, and he has initiated a lawsuit against the housing authority board, saying they had no right to fire him last September.

The problem is, there are many PHA staffers, current and ex, willing to tell more stories about Carl Greene. He was the sort of boss you never crossed, they say, for fear you’d come to work and find your desk moved out into the hall, or your salary slashed by $20,000, or that you’d been transferred to some PHA outpost in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. I heard quite a bit about all those things, too.

Greene is 54 years old, with a large, open face. He was once a promising high-school football player, a linebacker headed for a scholarship. But now his left arm hangs, withered and useless, the result of an injury in a game when he was 17 that severed nerves in his shoulder and changed his life’s direction. Now, as his life is changing again, as he is accused of being a bad man, he has come back today to remind us of all he accomplished.