Maryland Secretary of Human Resources Kalman R. (Buzzy) Hettleman, a member of Gov. Harry Hughes' cabinet, was charged last night in Baltimore with engaging in a perverted sex act with a woman.
Tonight the governor publicly praised Hettleman's leadership on social issues and urged "that we not rush to judgment on the matter."
The incident comes a week after Hughes accepted the resignation of another cabinet member, corrections chief Gordon Kamka, who was widely criticized following the arrest of 27 prison inmates accused of committing crimes while they were supposed to be on work or classroom details.
Unlike the case of Kamka, legislators were quick to express confidence tonight in Hettleman's ability to run his department, and several said they hope he will not consider resigning.
"It's a tragic thing. I think the general feeling is very supportive," said Senate Majority Leader Rosalie Abrams (D-Baltimore), who serves on the committee that oversees Hettleman's budget. (
Hettleman, 45, was released without bail after he and Deborah Foster, 32, were arrested in a Baltimore parking lot, according to police. In a statement issued today, Hettleman admitted: "An adult woman performed an oral sex act on me. What I did was stupid and wrong.
"Although I rarely drink even socially, last night I drank very heavily, and I lost control of my actions. What happened was an isolated incident. Words cannot express the regret and deep anguish I feel for the pain I have caused my family and others. My wife and I and children are very close and will help each other through this unfortunate experience."
Members of Hettleman's staff said tonight he has given no indication that he plans to resign. Several said they had been concerned about him in recent weeks as he worked longer and longer hours trying to reorganize programs in expectation to major cuts in federal funds.
"He's been under terrible pressure. He leapt at the cuts with an animal ferocity," said one aide.
In his statement tonight, Hughes cited Hettleman's long record of work in behalf of the poor, which includes leadership of Baltimore's Legal Aid and the city's Welfare Department.
"He has championed the disadvantaged with sensitivity and vigor, and the less fortunate among us are better off for his effort," Hughes said.
Hettleman's department administration welfare, social services and social security benefits. He was one of Hughes' first cabinet appointees and has emotionally fought attempts by legislators to cut funding for welfare recipients and local social programs such as day care. He has been a familiar figure before budget committees, carrying two heavy briefcases full of documents and vehemently denouncing attempts to "pave roads out of the hides of the poor."