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HUD Secretary resigns, Sean Bell Trial...

Behind The News
March 31, 2008 1:26:28 PM PDT
Why is it so hard for some people to make the right decision? Why is it so hard that, when they come to that ethical fork in the road -- one sign that says "good" and the other that says "bad" -- they find it difficult to follow the light? We've all been there, so I'm not going to pretend otherwise. To quote the preacher, let he/she who is without sin throw the first stone.

We'd be waiting a long time for the throw. No question.

But when your work involves the public trust, then you should ignore -- and the public must expect you to ignore -- that bright neon light at the ethical fork that's flashing "bad."

Most follow the other sign, which sometimes doesn't flash as brightly. But there is no shortage of examples of people who took the wrong fork.

Eliot Spitzer is the latest local. But Sharpe James, the multi-termed former Mayor of Newark, is now on trial for allegedly taking the wrong fork. And now, for the second time in less than a week, yet another member of the Bush Administration bows out under a cloud.

Alphonso Jackson, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, resigned today. Officially, it was because he wanted to spend more time with his family.

But Mr. Jackson is now under investigation for allegedly giving housing contracts in the Virgin Islands and New Orleans to his friends.

There have been calls for Jackson to step down; and they've increased recently because of the attention on Jackson's department to deal with the housing mortgage crisis.

Of course, the Secretary is innocent until proven otherwise. But if it's true, what in the world was he thinking? If you're in the public eye, or working for the public trust, you have to be squeaky clean when it comes to this stuff.

And we wonder why people are cynical about politics and government.

We'll have the latest on his resignation, tonight at 11.

Also at 11, what a day at the Sean Bell murder trial, where three New York cops are the defendants after 50 shots were fired at Bell and two of his friends outside a strip club in Queens in the fall of 2006.

Today, Trent Benefield, the backseat passenger in Bell's car, testified he did not hear or see anyone identify himself as a police officer before or during the shootings. He said that when the shooting started, he covered his eyes with his forearms and slinked in the backseat; he was hit three times-- one in each calf and once in his upper right thigh.

That last shot hit the mark when police say Benefield was trying to run away after he got out of the car. (The defense disputes this; they say he was shot three times in the car.)

Under withering cross examination, though, Benefield "suffered badly," according to our N.J. Burkett, who is covering the trial for us. Defense attorneys grilled him about an habitual marijuana smoking habit -- and about how his statements right after the shooting apparently contradicted his courtroom testimony.

The prosecution will claim that Benefield's statements 90 minutes after the shooting were made from his hospital bed while he was heavily medicated, incoherent and under interrogation from "predatory investigators."

Nonetheless, to quote N.J., "By the time he left the stand, Benefield had been reduced to a shifting, stammering opportunist. Had he been asked his own name, I am not sure what he would have answered."

It's been quite a trial.

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Scott Clark with the night's sports, including the Yankees season opener getting postponed because of rain till tomorrow night, and the Mets season opener in Florida.

I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

Bill Ritter


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