5 HUD Portraits, 1 Tight Deadline

By Mary Ann Akers
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The nation's housing industry is in a free fall from the subprime mortgage crisis. The budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development could be facing big cuts. And the agency is still struggling to respond to a slew of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

But hey, that's not stopping HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson from tackling another big priority: getting his official portrait painted -- and pronto.

The agency has awarded what it says is a $100,000 contract to an artist in the New York area to complete not just Jackson's portrait but also those of the four most recent past HUD secretaries -- Mel Martinez, Andrew Cuomo, Henry Cisneros and Jack Kemp -- all in about eight weeks. The due date for all five portraits, which has already slipped once, is now Oct. 15.

How will one mortal artist possibly meet the deadline? "By never leaving my studio," jokes the lucky winner of the HUD portrait sweepstakes contract, artist Daniel Mark Duffy.

Speaking between strokes from his studio in Newtown, Conn., Duffy said department officials gave him no indication of why they want the portraits completed so quickly. They just sent him photos of all five subjects and basically told him to get painting. Asked what he thought of the unusually tight deadline, he said, "It's extreme."

Typically, he said, it takes him "at least a month" or about 100 hours of studio time to paint a portrait from a photograph. Of course, he'd rather the HUD secretaries had sat for their portraits so "we could have had a fully realized interaction."

According to the schedule put forth in the contract solicitation the initial sketch of each portrait was due "no later than three weeks after award date." HUD will then "endeavor to complete review and approval within five calendar days." The completed portraits are due "no later than three weeks after initial sketch approval." If those are approved, then the final framed portraits are due to the HUD program office "no later than seven days after approval."

Needless to say, Duffy is painting as fast as he can. "I've already finished Cuomo and Cisneros," the artist said. "I'm painting Jackson at the moment." Kemp is next.

The only challenge he anticipates? All the wet surfaces. This is oil, after all, he says, "and oil paintings don't ever fully dry." Therefore, Duffy will drive the portraits down to Washington himself rather than shipping them.

HUD spokesman Jerry Brown says Secretary Jackson's portrait will be hung on the wall of the new auditorium at HUD, which is still under construction, after he leaves office, "which he has no plans to do."

According to Brown, the last HUD secretary to have an official portrait painted and hung at the agency was Samuel "Silent Sam" Pierce, whose eight-year tenure triggered a behemoth independent counsel investigation into widespread corruption at HUD -- focusing on charges that the agency under Pierce's stewardship played political favoritism in awarding contracts.

Let's hope for Jackson's sake that reinstituting the portrait tradition isn't an omen -- Jackson came under fire last year for admitting that he urged the staff to favor political pals of President Bush when awarding HUD contracts.

Duffy, who said he is a political independent, said he had "no idea" how he was awarded his $100,000 contract.

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