WASHINGTON – Two Democratic senators said Friday that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson, buffeted by allegations of cronyism and favoritism, should resign.
Sens. Patty Murray of Washington state and Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said that Jackson's problems represented a "worsening distraction" at HUD at a time when the nation needs a credible housing secretary who is beyond suspicion.
"It is time for Secretary Jackson to go," Murray said Friday.
Murray chairs a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on housing, while Dodd is chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. The pair sent a letter to President Bush on Friday urging him to request Jackson's resignation.
Jackson has refused to answer questions about his role in a Philadelphia redevelopment deal. The city's housing authority has filed a lawsuit charging that Jackson tried to punish the agency for nixing a deal involving music-producer-turned-developer Kenny Gamble.
At a subcommittee hearing last week, Murray repeatedly asked Jackson about the Philadelphia deal and other allegations of wrongdoing, including an investigation by HUD's inspector general that was triggered by Jackson's boast that he once revoked a contract because an applicant said he did not like Bush.
The inspector general, after a four-month inquiry, turned up no evidence of a canceled contract. But the report found what it called "some problematic instances" involving HUD contracts and grants, including Jackson's opposition to money for a contractor whose executives donated exclusively to Democratic candidates.
Murray said she offered Jackson a chance to "debunk any misunderstandings and clear his name." Instead, "Jackson stubbornly refused to provide the answers the American public deserves," she said.
A spokeswoman for Jackson declined immediate comment.
Dodd said that Jackson had repeatedly demonstrated he is unable to provide needed leadership for HUD at a time when the nation's housing markets are in crisis. He cited reports by HUD's inspector general that Jackson advised his senior staff to take political affiliation into account in awarding contracts, as well as three separate allegations of impropriety and Jackson's "repeated failure" to answer questions by members of Congress.
"I do not believe Secretary Jackson is capable of effectively carrying out his responsibilities and the responsibilities of the Department of Housing and Urban Development," Dodd said in a statement. "Now, more than ever, we need a HUD secretary who can devote his full energy to solving our nation's housing crisis."
Murray said that her subcommittee funds every dollar spent at HUD.
"We have an obligation to the taxpayer to see to it that those dollars are administered without corruption and favoritism," she said. "But we can't do our job if Secretary Jackson refuses to do his. 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."