On May 1, President Obama nominated Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) to be the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the conservator for the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
These two entities together currently back a large majority of new mortgages and hold or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages. Like other entities immersed in the mortgage market, Fannie and Freddie suffered great losses in the mortgage meltdown and were taken over by the federal government at the end of the Bush administration in September 2008.
Watt could be a key figure in the late stages of the mortgage crisis and in redefining the role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac going forward. So who is this eleven-term congressman and what does he care about most?
Probably the most important points to stress are these: He rose from humble beginnings through the meritocracy and is a Yale-educated lawyer who likes to immerse himself in the facts. He is broadly respected at home in Charlotte, N.C., and represents a safe district where he has biracial support. He carefully listens to the financial services industry, a major player in his community, and one that has supported his campaigns. Most important of all, he has made working for the economic well-being of African Americans his life’s work, whether as a lawyer in private practice representing minority businesses or as a lawmaker seeking to shore up consumer protection, particularly to strengthen the legal basis for challenging predatory lending, often used against racial minorities and other vulnerable populations.