Darrell Issa Holds Another All-Male Panel in Brooklyn, This Time on Foreclosures; Gets Mic-Checked
Congressman Darrell Issa, the richest member of that august body, with a net worth of around $448,125,017, visited Brooklyn today to hold a hearing on foreclosures--and was met with a roomful of Brooklynites facing foreclosure and other economic troubles, who were less than happy with the bank-friendly legislator's presence in their borough.
Within minutes of opening the hearing, Issa was mic-checked, with activists from New York Communities for Change and other community groups declaring "This hearing is a fraud!"
Titled "Failure to Recover: The State of Housing Markets, Mortgage Servicing Practices, and Foreclosures," the hearing bore more than a few similarities to Issa's recent Washington hearings on contraception: the legislators involved were all male, and no one actually impacted by the subject under discussion was called to testify. Instead, they were left to amplify one another's voices.
"I am the face of the homeowners you voted against. I am not the only one," Mimi Pierre-Johnson, a New Yorker facing foreclosure, told the room before she was escorted out.
"Ed Towns, you are helping destroy our community," shouted another Brooklyn resident. Towns, a Democratic Congressman who represents a chunk of Brooklyn, had invited Issa to hold his hearing in the borough.
"Despite the reaction, Brooklyn is delighted to have you," Towns said. "No we're not" shouted members of the audience.
"This is democracy at work," Rep. Issa declared of his own hearing, as the protesters were escorted out. Apparently, to Rep. Issa, "democracy" involves hearing from representatives of the nation's biggest banks: CitiMortgage, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo, as well as the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency.
Issa continued to make jokes about the protesters as the hearing wore on, as the bank reps defended their programs for helping homeowners, which consisted of lots of references to "face-to-face" meetings and little discussion of plans that would actually help people keep their homes. He remarked, "Field hearings are just like Washington hearings, except you get more local color." And at one point, he told the Wells Fargo Vice President, Joe Ohayon, that protesters had called him a member of the 1% (financially speaking, he's more like the .001%) because of his "life before Congress," and that Wells Fargo had been one of his "tenants" in a property he owns back in California.
Of course, Issa's wealth is a matter of public knowledge, as is the fact that he's still actively involved in running his businesses--the New York Times reported in August, "Even as he has built a reputation as a forceful Congressional advocate for business, Mr. Issa has bought up office buildings, split a holding company into separate multimillion-dollar businesses, started an insurance company, traded hundreds of millions of dollars in securities, invested in overseas funds, retained an interest in his auto-alarm company and built up a family foundation."
While Issa made apologies for banks robo-signing (implying that they committed foreclosure fraud because they were so busy processing foreclosures they simply couldn't keep things straight) and noted that Wall Street salaries weren't what they used to be, his colleague Rep. Elijah Cummings at least tried to stand up for the people who'd mostly been silenced, calling out Ed DeMarco, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, for his refusal to consider principal modification for mortgages, and grilling that agency's representative at the hearing, Alfred M. Pollard, over their failure to use the authority they have to force principal reductions.
Only one representative of the people facing the loss of their homes was even on the list of witnesses: Meghan Faux, deputy director of South Brooklyn Legal Services.
Meanwhile, outside the hearing, the mic-checkers shared the stories Issa and the others didn't seem to want to hear. "I'm still fighting JP Morgan Chase," Pierre-Johnson told blogger Marta Evry after the hearing. "All these programs have wonderful names, wonderful people working there, taking wonderful applications, but until we hold the banks accountable, it's all just wonderful papers and names of programs. We have to hold the banks accountable."