WASHINGTON - Word around town is that HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez don't like each other.
In a city with more than the usual number of egos, the idea of two politicians not seeing eye to eye is surely not considered bizarre. This apparent rift, however, is raising eyebrows among housing lobbyists because it could mean trouble for a wide range of housing initiatives that President Clinton may want to send to Congress during the next three years.
On paper, at least, it would seem natural for the two officials to get along. Both are Texas Democrats of Hispanic origin, and both are former mayors of San Antonio.
Instead, there is bad blood between them, if one believes the vague stories that have circulated for months. Housing industry officials don't really know why the enmity seems to exist, and spokesmen for Cisneros and Gonzalez declined to comment.
Some housing lobbyists are convinced that buried in the past in San Antonio is the reason why the two men don't get along today. Others have suggested that Gonzalez does not want to share the Washington spotlight with another, younger, Hispanic official from Texas.
Of late, some hard evidence has surfaced to back up all the gossip. The Oct. 23 edition of Congressional Quarterly quotes Gonzalez in a letter to Cisneros as saying, "I was treated a lot more considerately by Jack Kemp." Kemp, a Republican, was Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Bush, and he was not known for being too friendly with Democrats.
In the letter, Gonzalez was complaining about a recent invitation he received to a ceremony at which HUD awarded federal housing grants to several dozen cities - his hometown of San Antonio not among them.
Sound petty? Perhaps, but it's not a slight to be ignored. Gonzalez, chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over housing issues, holds half of the key to Cisneros' effectiveness in pushing housing legislation through Congress. The other half is held by the Senate Banking Committee chairman, Donald W. Riegle, D-Mich.
Some in the housing industry, in fact, believe that the supposed feud has already damaged Cisneros' effectiveness. They are saying that Gonzalez's dislike for Cisneros is the main reason that a package of HUD reforms proposed by the housing secretary is bottled up in Congress with virtually no chance of passing this year.
When the legislation was first sent up to Congress in September, lobbyists had expected it would be rushed to enactment as swiftly as possible.
The HUD reform bill would, among other things, clear the way for the department to sell off billions of dollars of nonperforming housing loans that have been assigned to HUD through defaults over the past several years. The bill would also make some minor improvements to the HOME housing affordability program.
Riegle's committee moved quickly, approving the bill on Oct. 19 with almost no debate. But Gonzalez's banking committee has not even scheduled a meeting on the bill. Gonzalez himself has offered no explanation publicly, and John Valencia, the staff director for the panel's subcommittee on housing and community development, did not return phone calls.
To be fair to Gonzalez, his motive for inaction on the HUD bill may well have nothing to do with enmity toward Cisneros. Some lobbyists believe Gonzalez wants to wait until next year to act because he believes it would be more appropriate to roll HUD's proposals into the comprehensive bill Congress must draft in 1994 to reauthorize federal programs like HOME.
Other Capitol Hill watchers are tempted to hunt for deeper motives. The "waiting for reauthorization" theory doesn't hold water, they say, because many of the provisions in the HUD reform bill are supported by Gonzalez. "There's no reason [for him] not to rubber-stamp it," said one lobbyist.
No reason, that is, unless Gonzalez is retaliating for perceived past slights by Cisneros.
The pending package of HUD proposals is a relatively small matter, compared to what Congress will be tackling in the housing area next year. If it's true that the package was stopped cold by a Cisneros-Gonzalez feud, look for an even bloodier battle in 1994 when the Clinton Administration and Congress try to put together the comprehensive bill to decide the future of federal housing programs.