Bush's Embattled Housing Chief Resigns
The Bush administration's top housing official, under criminal investigation and intense pressure from Democratic critics, announced Monday he is quitting.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson said his resignation will take effect on April 18. The move comes at a shaky time for the economy and the Bush administration, as the housing industry's crisis has imperiled the nation's credit markets and led to a major economic slowdown.
Jackson, 62, has been fending off allegations of cronyism and favoritism involving HUD contractors for the past two years. The FBI has been examining the ties between Jackson and a friend who was paid $392,000 by Jackson's department as a construction manager in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
The HUD chief made no direct mention of that in his resignation statement. Explaining his move, he said: "There comes a time when one must attend more diligently to personal and family matters. Now is such a time for me."
He did not take questions or elaborate on the family reasons he cited for the decision. The group assembled to hear Jackson's statement applauded and he left the room.
Jackson has a friendship with President Bush that dates to the late 1980s, when they lived in the same Dallas neighborhood. He was the first black leader of the housing authority in Dallas and president of American Electric Power-TEXAS in Austin.
On Monday, Jackson said he has spent more than 30 years of his life improving housing opportunities for all Americans regardless of income or race.
"My life's work has been to build better communities that families are proud to call home," the embattled housing director said.
Jackson said he is staying on three more weeks to ensure an orderly transition of the leadership of HUD.
His statement offered an upbeat review of his own record.
He said he and his team at the housing agency had helped families keep their homes, reduced chronic homelessness and "transformed public housing."
Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, who had called on Jackson to step down, said the resignation "means little to the millions of homeowners struggling to stay above water. What they care about most is meaningful action from an administration that so far has responded to Wall Street but not to Main Street."
Murray and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., have 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.
When the existence of the criminal probe against Jackson was revealed in October, the White House said President Bush supports Jackson and that Jackson "expects that the investigation will clearly establish that he did nothing improper or unethical."
In another controversy, the housing authority in Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit alleging that Jackson tried to punish the agency for nixing a deal involving music-producer-turned-developer Kenny Gamble, a friend of Jackson.
At a congressional hearing this month, Jackson repeatedly refused to answer questions about the Philadelphia redevelopment deal.
Last year, the inspector general at Jackson's department 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.
The HUD IG found that Jackson blocked the money "for a significant period of time." Jackson blamed his own aides for the delay.
In 2006, Jackson triggered the IG inquiry when he said publicly that he revoked a contract because the applicant who thanked him said he did not like President Bush.
Jackson later told the IG's investigators that "I lied" when he made the remark about taking back the contract.