U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson announced yesterday that he will resign for personal reasons after Democratic lawmakers questioned him about allegations that he steered housing business to friends and called for him to step down.

"There are times when one must attend more diligently to personal and family matters," Jackson said in a letter telling President Bush that he will resign April 18. "Now is such a time for me."

Jackson's announcement led a number of Democrats to urge the president to swiftly replace him because of the worsening housing crisis.

Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., recently called for Jackson to step down after questions arose as to whether he was trying to steer housing business to friends and associates. Federal authorities reportedly have been investigating whether he has given housing contracts in New Orleans and the Virgin Islands to friends, and Philadelphia officials have charged that Jackson threatened to withdraw federal aid from the Philadelphia Housing Authority after its president would not give a $2 million project to a developer connected to Jackson.

Democrats yesterday praised Jackson's decision to resign.

"I welcome his decision," Dodd said yesterday during a conference call focused on the housing market. "I think it was the right move."

He called for Jackson's resignation after some "very serious allegations" were made against him.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said it is "essential" that the president name an acting secretary "who will have the full authority to work with us in making the decisions we need to deal with the housing finance crisis."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also urged Bush to rapidly appoint a replacement, but also took issue with the administration's response to the housing crisis, saying it should have been "more rapid and more comprehensive."

"I urge President Bush to work with the Senate and change his approach to this crisis by appointing a new HUD Secretary who will aggressively address urgent housing issues in America, including the foreclosure crisis," Pelosi said.

Holland & Knight LLP tax lawyer Anthony Freedman said yesterday that HUD deputy secretary Roy Bernardi would be an obvious replacement for Jackson until after the November elections.

"It's hard to imagine somebody giving up a real job, to come into HUD to run it for eight, nine, 10 months," Freedman said. "I think certainly the secretary's situation had become a distraction. I think HUD is probably better off without that distraction."

Freedman said also that there is "important substantive work being done" in both the Senate and House committees and that a HUD secretary who can work "effectively, particularly with chairman Frank and chairman Dodd could make a significant contribution."

 

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