Daniel W. Drezner

Drezner dares you to explain HUD!

Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of “random variation” — in layman’s terms, “we have no idea what’s ...

Most poltical scientists believe that regular, law-like patterns govern a large part of political phenomenon worthy of study. However, most political scientists will also acknowledge that there are events that occur which simply go beyond our analytical toolkit and fall under the category of “random variation” — in layman’s terms, “we have no idea what’s going on.” Which brings me to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. The Dallas Business Journal‘s Christine Perez describes the close of a speech he gave in late April to minority contractors:

After discussing the huge strides the agency has made in doing business with minority-owned companies, Jackson closed with a cautionary tale, relaying a conversation he had with a prospective advertising contractor. “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.” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said canceling a government contract due to political views “is not a door you want to open.” “Whether or not it’s legal, it certainly draws your judgment and the judgment of your office into question,” Jillson said. “It’s just not the tone you want to set.”

This prompted a lot of blogosphere reaction — as well as some coverage in the Washington Post. Today, the story gets even stranger, as Frank James of The Chicago Tribune’s DC blog The Swamp reports:

I called HUD and talked with Jackson’s spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, about the incident. After talking with Jackson, she returned with information that made the matter even more extraordinary. She essentially said that Jackson made the whole story up. He told a room full of people something happened which didn’t. “What the secretary was talking about (in his speech) was all of our accomplishments with minority contracts. At at the very end of his statement, the secretary offered an anecdote to explain politics in Washington D.C. He was speaking to a group of business leaders in Dallas and there were lots of Dallas Cowboys in the room. “So he was offering an anecdote to say, this is how politics works in DC. In DC people won’t just stab you in the back, they’ll stab you in the front. And so the secretary’s point was a hypothetical, what he said was an anecdote. It did not happen.”…. But with partisanship in Washington so nasty in reality, why would Jackson feel he had to resort to inventing a scene like the one he described in Dallas? Let’s pick up with Tucker’s explanation. “It did not happen. The secretary is not part of the contracting process here at HUD. That is handled by a senior official in our procurement office. He was offering it as an anecdote to say this is what happens. People in D.C. will come up to you, trash you, say terrible things about you, trash your boss, and then they’ll turn around and ask you for money. “So the secretary was offering it as an anecdote,” she said. “He definitely said this in front of the (Dallas) meeting. But this meeting did not occur. The meeting with this official (in his office.) It was a hypothetical. He was offering it anecdotally. “You know when you tell a joke you put yourself in first person, for delivery,” she said. “You say I was on this train and so and so did this even if you know it wasn’t a train. The secretary was putting himself in that first person to make the story more effective… “The secretary was taking situations that have happened to him in the past. As you know, people come up to political figures all the time and say ‘I don’t like you, I don’t like your politics, I don’t like the president… He was blending together things that happened to him in the past.” This was all so “complicated, confusing and to be honest, a bit weird,” I told Tucker. “I can understand that,” she said…. Clearly, Jackson very much would prefer to have evaporate the notion that he’s torpedoeing contracts of administration critics, so much so that he’d rather push the idea that he says untruths in his speeches. Either way, it’s all very strange.

I, for one, would like to thank Secretary Jackson for his odd behavior — until now, the only thing about HUD that I had found funny since Eddie Murphy’s TV series The PJs put a sign outside a government building saying, “HUD: Keeping you in the projects since the 1960’s.” Readers are invited to try to divine what, exactly, Jackson was thinking over the past week.

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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