December 25, 1989 12:00 PM

She was wined, dined, flowered and chocolated and made lots of important new friends. Who wouldn’t love a life in public service? As virtual queen of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Deborah Gore Dean, 35, had clout too: From 1984 to 1987 her office disbursed many millions of taxpayers’ dollars earmarked for low-income housing projects. In fact, investigators charge that Dean hosted a bacchanal of influence peddling and greed among Republican real estate developers and their friends. It was all so exciting, nobody remembered to tell the homeless to “Come on down.”

During the summer, the HUD scandal metastasized into a mess that rivaled Iran-contra. Dean (with demonstrators at her home, left) denies any wrongdoing and blames her boss, Samuel Pierce. He blames her. Otherwise both have retired into the provocative silence of the Fifth Amendment. As congressional hearings loom, Dean’s lawyers are rumored to be seeking her immunity in exchange for—in her words—”one hell of a testimony.”

The first question to ask her is, How in the world did you get that job? Well, power abhors a vacuum, and there certainly was one at HUD—Secretary Pierce, a Cabinet-level hologram, was often secreted in his office watching All My Children on TV. Into the breach stepped his executive assistant, Deborah Dean, who controlled the paper flow and knew how to use his autopen. The politically connected scion of Maryland blue bloods, she had taken eight years to graduate from Georgetown U, ranked 507th in a class of 509. Before springboarding to the top at HUD, she had mostly worked tending bar. Her only previous experience in housing was that she lived in one. Not since Tony Curtis in The Great Imposter has someone gone so far on so little. But Dean had great yuppie street smarts. Gregarious, adept both at flattery and backstairs ruthlessness, she became known among HUD staffers as the Duchess of Darkness.

Deborah Dean’s mother, Mary, lived with convicted Watergate conspirator John Mitchell after he got out of jail. Deborah came to refer to him as her stepfather, or sometimes “Dad.” So here’s a mystery for a rainy night: how Dean, with Mitchell’s notorious example before her, fell into the same sink—and even cut Mitchell in for $75,000 in consulting fees.

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