The federal government is about to strip New York State agencies of the power to enforce state consumer-protection laws that prohibit many cases of abusive lending, according to Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.
Last year, the Washington-based Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees many of the nation=s largest banks, such as Citibank, drafted a proposed rule change that would supercede state laws and give the OCC primary responsibility for investigating and punishing nationally chartered banks C and their subsidiaries C if they engage in predatory lending.
AOur capacity to address the issue of predatory lending is being taken away from us,@ Mr. Spitzer said at a press conference in December. AIt is a horrendous policy decision.@
The OCC could make the new rule final any day. Mr. Spitzer and the attorneys general of 45 other states recently called on the OCC to drop the change.
AThey=re giving a road map to the map guys on how to avoid prosecution and regulation,@ Mr. Spitzer said. AThey have come to the playing field late, and only to protect the large banks.@
The agency dismissed the criticism. AThe OCC has been doing supervision of the national banking system since it was chartered by the National Banking Act with the full support of Abraham Lincoln C that=s how far back we go,@ said Kevin Mukri, an agency spokesman. AThis organization is very vocal, very public, and very aggressive in its pursuit of not tolerating predatory lending.@
AWhat we=re seeing here is a transparent power grab by the national bank regulator,@ said Sarah Ludwig of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project. AAll New Yorkers will be affected if the OCC carries out its plans.@
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Farewell to a Pioneer
The death of councilwoman Mary Pinkett last month wasn=t supposed to come as a surprise. For years, the word in political circles was that she was sick, getting on in years, and feeling her age. I didn=t believe a word of it.
I=d been hearing since the 1980s that Pinkett was getting old and thinking about retirement, and always discounted the talk. Black politicians never retire, I would tell people. They stay for decades, and never get beaten; you generally have to wait until they are carried out.
On the other hand, a good many longtime politicians regularly float rumors of their supposed retirement as a way to flush out potential opponents. The incumbent then turns out to be far from feeble, and the impatient upstarts are ruthlessly crushed. It happens all the time.
So it was with wide open eyes that I managed the 1991 campaign of Peter Williams, a friend from the Lafayette Gardens projects who had grown up to be a public policy wizard. Pete ran against Pinkett and lost.
A few years later, in 1997, I ran against her myself and was trounced, 52% to 29%. Bringing up the rear in that race was a rival, soon to be a friend, named James Davis.
Pete, James and I campaigned on essentially the same slogan: The black community needs new and younger leadership. It was, and remains, a serious problem.
Go to any distressed inner-city community and you will routinely find key institutions C churches, schools, newspapers, civic organizations, political offices C whose leadership turns over maybe once every 30 or 40 years. Along the way, a vast amount of homegrown talent and enthusiasm is shunned, suppressed, deliberately discouraged, or otherwise squandered.
Every year young black professionals with a passion for public service return to their neighborhoods with newly-minted degrees, only to meet with wary skepticism C or even outright hostility C from the same elders who sent them off to college with a small scholarship and an admonition to return someday.
That talent, in short order, ends up migrating outside the community in a kind of brain drain that inner-city neighborhoods can ill afford.
The main thing that we then-young Turks failed to appreciate was the mentality of the voters who had elected pioneers such as Pinkett in the first place. Pinkett=s generation C her base of support throughout her career C came of age in a deeply segregated nation, decades before the Civil Rights Movement.
Born in 1926, Pinkett was a teenager when Harlem=s Adam Clayton Powell became the first black representative ever elected to the city council in 1941. Decades later, Pinkett became the first black woman ever elected to the council C in 1973, at age 47.
For Pinkett=s cohort, every bit of social progress was hard-fought and a long time in coming, which taught them to operate with a high degree of caution. From their point of view, the reelection of Pinkett was a matter of defensive logic: Since it took more than 300 years to get the first black woman elected to the city council, she should be supported by black voters no matter what, lest that gain be taken away.
Pinkett was, for many of my neighbors, the first and only black city official they=d ever had a chance to vote for C and many of them, or their parents, grew up in the South at a time when trying to vote at all was a good way to get forced out of a job, physically assaulted, or much worse. Compared to that, who cared what some smart-talking youngsters with fancy palm cards had to say?
In the 1980s, Pinkett weathered a few spirited challenges from a local activist named Katie Davis C including one gripping sequence, shortly before Election Day, in which Pinkett=s son died tragically: It=s generally believed that he committed suicide by leaping to his death from a balcony in the towers on Lafayette Avenue where the Pinkett family lives.
The councilwoman grieved briefly, then hastily returned to the campaign trail and won yet again. As she once told an interviewer, her career as a labor union official and politician had taught her a simple rule: ADo whatever it takes to win.@
I learned this the hard way on primary day in 1997, when it was known that it would be Pinkett=s final reelection bid because of the recently passed term-limits law. I was working the polling site right outside Pinkett=s building, in what I imagined was a display of confidence.
Somebody in the complex sounded the alarm. Within minutes, a campaign van pulled up and, right on cue, Pinkett=s army slowly came pouring out of the buildings C hordes of senior citizens, many of them struggling down DeKalb Avenue on canes and walkers. It was the people who had built the neighborhood, fought for it, and stood by their councilwoman for 28 years.
The old folks seemed glad to see me. They smiled and politely shook my hand. Then they went into the booth and pulled the lever for Mary Pinkett, one last time.