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.
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 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, a friend of Jackson.
Inquiry finds 'problematic instances'
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 to comment. But Jackson's office issued a statement defending his tenure as HUD secretary.
"Secretary Jackson is focused on helping American homeowners weather this housing crisis. He has worked tirelessly for two years now to get Congress to pass legislation that would allow the Federal Housing Administration ... perform its historic role to help stabilize the housing market. Yet the Hill has still not acted, and the crisis gets worse," the statement said.
Dodd: Politics influences contracts
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."
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he was troubled by Jackson's refusal to answer questions from Murray and other subcommittee members.
"This is a subcommittee of the United States Senate charged with putting up billions of dollars for your department and there are some very important questions that have to be answered," he told Jackson at a hearing last week.
"With $50 million that's at stake and the kind of allegations that are involved here ... what I hope is we can settle it," Specter said.
Murray said 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."