Monday, April 14, 2008

Demolishing and Redeveloping Alphonso Jackson

Until recently, Alphonso Jackson was the Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He was appointed to that post by President George W. Bush, a longtime friend. Mr. Jackson had once lead the Housing Authority of the City of Dallas.

As far as I can tell, Mr. Jackson served without incident until some troubling comments surfaced when the Secretary addressed the Real Estate Executive Council in Dallas. During his speech, he relayed a story that described an incident in which a qualified contract proposal was denied for purely political reasons:

"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."

This sparked a relative firestorm for the Secretary. Congressional Democrats wrote to HUD's Inspector General demanding an investigation. (Including Senator Lieberman, who was still a Democrat at the time)

Jackson was forced to backpedal from the initial story. He tried out a number of defenses through his spokeswoman, Ms. Dustee Tucker.

Initially, Ms. Tucker sought to calm the uproar by explaining that this potential contractor did more than just criticize the President, but did so "trashing, in a very aggressive way."

Quickly, it became obvious that this response was not going to placate anyone. Ms. Tucker's statement only seemed to confirm that a HUD contract had indeed been pulled because of criticism of the President. Surely the media would want to know who the spurned contractor was. Surely the media would continue to ask questions relating to Mr. Jackson's credibility as steward of HUD.

Thus, Jackson and Tucker changed their official tune. In fact, they argued, Mr. Jackson had never ever awarded a contract based the political viewpoints of the potential recipients. In fact, nobody had ever "trashed" the President "in a very aggressive way."

Rather, Secretary Jackson had fabricated the whole thing. The story he'd told to the Real Estate Executive Council in Dallas was fiction. He'd relayed it as a fable of sorts:

"It's not a true story. It's a made-up story," said Jackson spokeswoman Dustee Tucker, adding that he was only trying to make a point about how Washington works.

Point well taken. A few months later, the Dallas Morning News was shown a copy of the internal investigation of Mr. Jackson conducted by HUD's own Inspector General. Though that investigation did not find any "direct evidence," it did yield this fine tidbit of information:

Several top HUD officials – themselves political appointees – testified that Mr. Jackson told senior staff at a meeting a few months before the April 28 speech in Dallas that they should consider contractors' political leanings. He urged them to give contracts to Bush supporters and voiced concerns about any going to active Democratic donors, the aides said.

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Remember that for later.

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