HUD deputy is named to top post

Jackson, old Bush friend, would succeed Martinez, who may make Senate bid

December 13, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - President Bush promoted his old friend and former Dallas neighbor Alphonso Jackson to secretary of housing and urban development yesterday.

"He's an experienced executive in the public and private sectors, a man who knows the issues facing HUD and knows how to get things done," Bush said in a brief White House ceremony announcing Jackson's appointment.

A native Texan who directed the Dallas Housing Authority for eight years, Jackson had been the federal department's deputy secretary for nearly three years. If confirmed by the Senate, he would succeed Mel Martinez, who resigned to return to Florida and is expected to run for the U.S. Senate.

In the brief ceremony in the Roosevelt Room, Bush praised both men as public servants who have come to understand "the struggles and hopes of urban America."

Martinez, who was born in Cuba, fled the island as a teen-ager during a Catholic relief effort, Operation Pedro Pan - a story Bush was fond of telling at joint appearances with Martinez around the country.

In his newly chosen HUD secretary, who would be the third black member of his Cabinet, Bush noted another classic American story.

"Alphonso Jackson grew up in a family with 12 children - a housing challenge unto itself," the president said, drawing chuckles from the small group of friends, family and aides gathered for the announcement.

Jackson's father, Arthur, worked three jobs, educated his children and "instilled the values that have carried his son far in life," Bush said, singling out his new appointee as "just the man to carry on the work of compassionate conservatism in America's cities."

"He believes, as I do, that homeownership is a source of stability for our communities and a source of dignity for our families," Bush said.

Jackson called his promotion the "highest honor" and pledged to follow his father's advice of always "giving back."

"Today," Jackson said, "I have been blessed with an opportunity to give back in a way I could never have imagined."

He would be the third Texan in the Cabinet, joining Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans, a former Midland oil executive, and Education Secretary Rod Paige, the former Houston schools superintendent.

Paige and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell are the other two black Cabinet members.

At HUD, Jackson will be in charge of 9,300 employees, an annual budget of $32 billion and a broad mission to increase home ownership, particularly among minorities, create affordable housing for low-income Americans and generally promote economic and community development.

Jackson, 58, who grew up in South Dallas, was the president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Housing Authority from 1989 until 1996, when he resigned to join a Dallas-based utility holding company.

Before Bush moved to the Governor's Mansion in Austin, the two men had lived in the same North Dallas neighborhood.

"I used to drop by for an occasional cup of coffee - sometimes unannounced," the president recalled yesterday.

As governor, Bush appointed Jackson to the Texas Southern University Board of Regents and to the state General Services Commission, which he headed.

Jackson was easily confirmed as deputy HUD secretary in 2001. For the new post, he will face a hearing before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and then a confirmation vote by the full Senate.

Little, if any, opposition is expected.

Both Texas senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, issued strong endorsements yesterday.

"He's well prepared to hit the ground running," Cornyn said. Hutchison said she would be canvassing the Senate to "ensure a swift confirmation."

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