Blackwell quits PHA board. Will others follow?

Posted: March 03, 2011

Under pressure from housing officials in the Obama administration, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has quit her seat on the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and other PHA board members are likely to follow.

Debra Brady, the wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the city Democratic Party chairman, has told other board members of her intention to resign, but hadn't worked out the timing, a source close to Debra Brady said.

Former Mayor John Street, chairman of the five-member PHA board, said via e-mail that he expects to say something tomorrow about his intentions.

The board has been under pressure since last summer, when newspapers disclosed that three sexual-harassment lawsuits against executive director Carl Greene had been settled without the board's knowledge.

The board fired Greene in September, but continuing reports of mismanagement spurred investigations by Congress, the FBI and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Last week, HUD's deputy secretary, Ron Sims, urged all five board members in a letter to step aside "to restore confidence in the agency and to protect the funding for the residents who rely on its services."

Blackwell and Debra Brady said then that they had no plans to resign.

But Blackwell announced yesterday that she'd changed her mind, fearing that continued resistance would hurt the 81,000 people in public housing in Philadelphia.

"HUD's interest and my interest are the same," Blackwell said. "That is, to not have any of the tenants hurt in any way."

She told reporters that she had no regrets about her steadfast support for Greene, even after the sexual-harassment settlements were disclosed. "Carl Greene was a visionary," she said.

Blackwell had been a board member since 2002 as an appointee of then-Mayor Street. Her latest term expired in September 2008, after Mayor Nutter took office, but Nutter allowed her to continue in the post.

Nutter said yesterday that he had no one in mind to take Blackwell's seat.

"It's HUD's ball of wax, so you have to pay attention to them," he said. "It's not clear what HUD wants to do in terms of the board."

Besides Blackwell, Brady and Street, who named himself to the PHA board in 2004 and renewed the appointment as he was leaving the mayor's office in 2007, the other board members are Patrick Eiding, president of the Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, an appointee of City Controller Alan Butkovitz, and Nellie Reynolds, a tenant leader appointed by the other four board members.

Eiding, who was traveling out of town until yesterday, said that in his most recent conversations with other board members, they had agreed to resist HUD's pressure to resign.

"My intention is to do the job I was appointed to do," Eiding said. "We've done a lot of work at PHA since we got rid of Carl Greene. The people at HUD who are pointing at others ought to look in the mirror to see what they've done [auditing PHA] the past 10 years."

Reynolds said that she had been out of touch because of a death in her family and needed more time to consider her status on the PHA board.

Daily News reporter Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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