WASHINGTON — Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, escalated his election-year tensions with the Obama administration Tuesday by declaring he had "lost confidence" in Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.
In a letter to Donovan, Cardoza told the housing secretary that the administration's work to assist troubled homeowners in the San Joaquin Valley was "absolutely unacceptable and reflects complete incompetence."
The three largest cities in Cardoza's district — Modesto, Merced and Stockton — rank in the nation's top 10 for foreclosures. Nonetheless, Cardoza noted that Merced had not been targeted for a special federal mortgage assistance program last year.
"Your department continues to ignore those most in need of help, and instead establishes criteria that stacks the deck against us," Cardoza wrote.
Cardoza further advised Donovan that "if you can't turn your department around, then you should do the honorable thing." Cardoza does not specify what that would be, though it presumably is a call for Donovan to resign.
Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, the Harvard-educated Donovan was a highly regarded housing director in New York City. Until now, he has largely avoided controversy during his year in office, and he visited the valley in July.
Some of the frustrations cited by Cardoza date to the final months of the Bush administration.
In September 2008, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it would distribute $3.9 billion to help distressed communities buy foreclosed properties. Modesto, Stockton and Fresno qualified for the first round of funds.
Merced County and cities such as Los Banos did not qualify for immediate aid, federal officials explained at the time, because of how Congress had specified the money would be distributed. Merced County, though, still was able to benefit from money passed along from the state.
Cardoza's denunciation of Donovan follows his earlier, sharp criticism of how the Obama administration's Interior Department has handled irrigation deliveries to San Joaquin Valley farmers. Cardoza also offers pointed words for President Barack Obama himself, over the president's absence from the San Joaquin Valley, in particular.
"He's had time to go to Copenhagen, and time to go pick up his Nobel Prize, but he hasn't found time to come to the valley," Cardoza said pointedly in a recent interview.
McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Mike Doyle can be reached at email@example.com or 202-383-0006.