The Washington Times - April 21, 2009, 10:34AM

Mercedes Marquez, a woman President Obama has appointed to a prominent federal housing position, is being mocked by conservative bloggers for paying a Zen Buddhist priest thousands of dollars from her post at the Los Angeles Housing Department.

Ms. Marquez was quoted by the Los Angeles Times in 2007 supporting payments to a priestess named Norma Wong for “management training that includes teaching breathing with sphincter control, learning ‘how to stand’ and playing with wooden sticks.”


Ms. Marquez was recently appointed to become Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development by President Obama.

The article says one attendee said participants were asked during one session to  “encircle Marquez with their backs to her while holding their sticks, saying they were instructed to imagine that they were shielding their boss from opposing forces such as City Council members or other departments,” although Ms. Marquez denied that happened.

Last February the Los Angeles Times wrote Wong’s firm has recieved nearly $30,000 in payments from the city and that the contracts have become a point of contention in the race for Los Angeles City Controller.  In one advertisement candiate Wendy Graeuel walks past the Housing Department noting this is the location “where they wasted money on a Zen Buddhist consultant to teach them how to breathe — and fight with swords.”

Erick Erickson, founder of the conservative blog, was first to raise questions about the arrangement. He also posted a letter he claims he obtained from a disgruntled employee at the Los Angeles housing department.

“Mercedes hired Norma and after the training was paid for Mercedes became a Priestess,” the letter says. “After the next training, Mercedes was elevanted to High Priestess. The whole purpose of the Zen training was to elevate Mercedes’ stature in the Buddhist Temple.”

Erickson wants the GOP to make these items an issue in Ms. Marquez’s confirmation vote. “Hopefully the Senate Republicans will ask some very pointed questions to Ms. Marquez,” he wrote.