Kamala Harris: Foreclosure Settlement Scores Points, Raises Questions

by Sharon Kyle on February 13, 2012

On Friday, a day after announcing one of the largest settlements in California’s history, Kamala Harris spoke to the California Democratic Party’s African American Caucus, which was meeting in San Diego at the Party’s convention. Greeted with a standing ovation, the first black attorney general and a rising star in California politics restated many of the details she covered in her earlier press conference, adding some additional tidbits.

The audience showed their appreciation for Harris’ role in helping to shape the out-of-court multi-state mortgage-abuse settlement with five of the largest home loan banks – Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Ally Financial. Frequently interrupted by applause, at one point Harris had to shush the crowd as she explained that even she, the highest attorney in the state, didn’t read all of the documents she signed when she bought her home. Many laughed as she simply stated that she couldn’t get through all of that documentation, saying “nobody can”. Harris insisted that she intends to continue her pursuit of avenues that would protect average Californians from the kinds of abuses that created this foreclosure crisis.

Stating that blacks and Latinos represent 30% of homeowners in the state but 50% of the foreclosures, Harris acknowledged that the bank settlement only addresses a small portion of the problem. “Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,” Harris told the crowd, “are headed by a man who clearly does not understand his role.” With two-thirds of our mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie, Harris was emphatic that agency head Edward DeMarco must go.
While the members of the African American Caucus were clearly supportive of AG Harris’ decision to participate in the settlement, others were not.

The Los Angeles Times reported two Occupy L.A. protesters were arrested Thursday outside a state building where Harris held her press conference to celebrate the state’s share of the bank settlement. The Occupy protestors expressed dissatisfaction with the deal, claiming that it was a “sell-out.” According to the LA Times, more than 100 protestors showed up to voice there opposition to the deal.

The Obama administration is a clear winner in getting holdouts Kamala Harris and New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to sign onto the deal; the benefit to average homeowners is much less clear. Although the $18 billion California won in the settlement seems like real money, a qualifying former homeowner whose home has been foreclosed on — and whose mortgage was not owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac — will receive less than $2,000 — small comfort indeed compared to the financial and emotional whack of losing a home. However, Harris did retain California’s right to “sue banks that packaged bad mortgages into securities and sold them as safe investments.” A major victory that was hard fought.

Because it was rumored that Occupiers intended to disrupt events at the San Diego Convention Center, there was heavy police presence. Many of the Democratic delegates expressed concern. But there was no evidence of discontent among the delegates of the African American Caucus. Harris’ broad smile and “down home” style was gobbled up by the crowd as they listened and showed support for their Attorney General.

This piece was first published at L.A. Progressive.

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