As more news stories break on Housing and Urban Development (HUD) department secretary Alphonso Jackson, more “old friends” keep popping up in key positions to determine federal contract awards. His harassment of the Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) over the Martin Luther King housing project deal is merely another crumb in a trail of questionable behavior and federal investigations. Like his former cohorts in the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Defense, Alphonso Jackson should step down as HUD secretary. His disputed ethics are enough to effectively diminish his authority. If Jackson’s claims that he “does not touch or interfere with contracts” are true, the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) September 2007 report, which outlines wasteful spending and mismanaged contracts under Jackson, only proves that he is inept.
PHA’s director, Carl Greene, recently found himself cast as an antagonist to a collective of comparable business practices. He claimed that Jackson bullied the city into giving into the wishes of developer and former local music legend, Kenny Gamble, who demanded he be given a $2 million tract of land for providing services Green claims were not provided in full. Jackson is allegedly using his power in Washington to issue punishment to the rebellious Philadelphia administration – a tactic he himself, once bragged about using against enemies of President Bush in a Dallas speech two years ago.
The victims here, as in most cases involving HUD scandals, are residents depending on low-income housing and federal aid. HUD’s threats, if acted upon, would surely lead to a city budget shortage causing raised rent for 84,000 homes and the layoff of 250 workers. For a non-profit urban-development company (Universal Community Homes), historically rooted in the neighborhood, Gamble’s aggressive tactics to acquire land for building full-market priced homes seems peculiar at best. What’s even more alarming is that Gamble’s army, which includes Jackson, can be linked through Republican Party activities. Jackson’s spokesperson denied that he and Gamble were ever close friends, but couldn’t refute that the two men share political interests.
In New Orleans, Jackson’s wife, Marcia, attracted the attention of federal investigators through her involvement with two Housing Authority of New Orleans projects (HONA) as a consultant. Kennedy Associates, a St. Louis architectural and engineering concern, and MetroplexCore, a Houston environmental and industrial services company, both share financial and political ties with HUD, Jackson and his wife.
CEO and chairman of MetroplexCore, Willard L. Jackson Jr. (unrelated to the family of Alphonso Jackson), was appointed to the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Dallas in 2002 by President Bush, who not only appointed Mrs. Jackson to the Commission on Presidential Scholars, he also placed both Jackson and Jackson Jr. on the Board of Regents of Texas Southern University. Jackson and his wife are frequent guests at The White House.
According to the accounts of testimony received by the OIG, both companies were awarded multi-million dollar contracts for HONA projects without adhering to the federal Contractor Performance System. This violated HUD’s own guidelines, which specifically state that evaluations for contracts with option periods must be completed at least 120 days in advance of the end of the contract period. Contracts were handed out to friends with complete disregard to laws preventing favoritism.
And it goes both ways. William Hairston, a stucco contractor who was paid nearly half a million dollars for working at HANO for 18 months, certainly understands the current reward system of the HUD. Michael L. Hollis, a lawyer from Atlanta and golfing buddy of Jackson, received contracts worth about $1 million to run the Virgin Islands Housing Authority (VIHA) for 17 months. Lily Lee, a former deputy assistant secretary for housing, was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for living expenses in addition to her salary. Lee worked under the former head Office of Department Operations and Coordination (ODOC) Frank L. Davis, whose chief operating officer until 2004 was Jackson. The ODOC provides staffing to the HUD.
With investigators and political enemies chomping at the bit to take down yet another back-pocket buddy of the Bush Administration, Alphonso Jackson has now exposed himself to the firing squad of the media. His leadership and direction will not be trusted and unless the HUD makes an effort to free itself from this self-influenced faction, key housing issues will be smothered in grand jury probes and election coverage and will eventually be forgotten.
For Jackson, there’s a whole list of these names he may want to forget in the near future. It pays to have powerful friends, except when you have to account for them all.