Housing horrors

The controversy surrounding the HUD secretary deepens:

WASHINGTON — Several Democratic senators sharply criticized the secretary of housing and urban development on Wednesday, warning that accusations of wrongdoing threatened to undermine his leadership.

The Justice Department and the housing department’s inspector general are investigating whether the secretary, Alphonso R. Jackson, improperly steered hundreds of thousands of dollars in government contracts to friends in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands.

On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers also raised concerns about accusations that Mr. Jackson threatened to withdraw federal aid from the director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority after he refused to turn over a $2 million property to a politically connected developer.

The lawmakers pointed to an e-mail exchange in January 2007 between two senior HUD officials who discussed making the Philadelphia housing chief, Carl R. Greene, unhappy by taking away his federal aid.

Mr. Jackson, who appeared before the Senate banking committee on Wednesday, said he could not discuss the e-mail messages because they were linked to a lawsuit filed against HUD by Mr. Greene. Last year Mr. Jackson denied complaints of favoritism, telling senators, “I do not interfere with any contract that is given in HUD, period.”

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut and chairman of the banking committee, told Mr. Jackson on Wednesday that he remained “deeply troubled” by the reports of impropriety.

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, said controversy had been “swirling around your stewardship of this department for far too long.”

“This kind of stuff undermines public confidence in our officials,” Mr. Casey said of the e-mail messages, which were first published by The Washington Post.

I haven't seen any sort of defense of the man, so I withhold judgement as to whether he's guilty. But this sort of thing is far more serious than Eliot Spitzer's pecadillos, and it ought to be getting at least commensurate attention.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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