U.S. Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, and Patty Murray (D-WA), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, said last week that they had sent a letter to President Bush calling for the resignation of HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson. Both senators allege that Jackson refused to answer questions about the consideration of political affiliation in determining contract awards, claims that have dogged the HUD secretary ever since two years ago he suggested that he denied a contract because a bidder spoke ill of President Bush. Via the New York Times, a recap of those fateful remarks:
"Why should I reward someone who doesn’t like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president?’" Mr. Jackson asked ... After the ensuing controversy, he claimed his comments were merely "anecdotal," and insisted he did not believe in such punishment.
Housing officials in Philly recently complained, as well, saying that Jackson "retaliated" by stripping the city of some of its federal funding when it refused to play ball with an associate of his. HUD is publicly denying the allegations. Dodd and Murray's renewed call for Jackson's resignation represent the latest negative attention to focus on the HUD secretary, during a time when the U.S. housing crisis is front-and-center for the nation's economy. "Given findings in the Inspector General’s report that Secretary Jackson advised his senior staff to improperly take political affiliation into account in awarding contracts ... I do not believe Secretary Jackson is capable of effectively carrying out his responsibilities," said Dodd. "Now, more than ever, we need a HUD Secretary who can devote his full energy to solving our nation’s housing crisis." Jackson has denied doing so. At a recent subcommittee hearing on the HUD budget, Murray repeatedly asked Jackson for details on the troublesome Philadelphia deal allegedly gone wrong –- questions that Murray says Jackson refused to answer. "My subcommittee funds every dollar that is spent at HUD. We have an obligation to the taxpayer to see to it that those dollars are administered without corruption and favoritism. But we can't do our job if Secretary Jackson refuses to do his," Murray said. "This is a cabinet secretary who has consistently ducked accountability, and arrogantly refused to heed the public's calls for answers. Secretary Jackson should resign immediately and seek to clear his name as a private citizen – if he can." Despite the strong words from Congressional Democrats, it's not clear at this point if any Republicans on Capitol Hill are willing to join in the fray, or if they see the attention on Jackson as an instance of partisan bickering.