At a congressional field hearing today at Brooklyn Borough Hall, Congressman Ed Towns grilled top ranking officials from of a handful of the country’s biggest mortgage lenders, eliciting loud applause and laughter from the packed hearing room.
Yet Towns himself was also subject to heavy scrutiny before the hearing, for inviting the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, chaired by controversial Republican Congressman Darrel Issa, to come to the five boroughs in the first place.
It was a morning full of potential rewards and pratfalls for Towns, a three-decade incumbent who is facing a tough re-election campaign against Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and Councilman Charles Barron.
Jeffries has been openly critical of Towns’ performance chairing that committee from 2009 through 2011, saying that Towns did not do enough to stem the mortgage crisis through his role as head of Congress’ oversight panel. And Towns’ own home loan from Countrywide – and his failure to subsequently subpoena the lender – has itself been the subject of scrutiny.
But at the hearing, Towns did aggressively question the heads of the mortgage companies. At one point, Towns pulled out a letter from one of his constituents, which described a seemingly outrageous mortgage repayment agreement requiring the constituent to pay lump sum nearly double their annual salary.
“I’m told in my community that this is a rising trend,” Towns said. “The situation is bad to begin with, and impossible to work out.”
Issa — the richest member of Congress — also struck a populist tone in badgering the mortgage bigwigs. And Issa and Towns got along swimmingly during the hearing, teaming up to elicit several promises from the companies during their round of testimony.
Towns, who hopes legislation helping homeowners will result from the hearing, says Issa’s surprising decision to come to Brooklyn reflects Towns’ seniority and willingness to work across the aisle. The hearing could provide a good talking point for Towns on the campaign trail.
But Towns has also been subject to criticism for brining Issa to Brooklyn, most notably from former ACORN head Bertha Lewis, whose organizations’ demise was spurred in part by Issa’s combative rhetoric about it. Lewis and others have suggested that Towns pushed for the hearing primarily for his own political benefit.
In advance of the hearing, members of New York Communities For Change (the organization that replaced ACORN), Occupy Wall Street and other groups protested outside Brooklyn Borough Hall, and briefly protested Issa in the hearing room, before being escorted out by security.
“I think that in the community, people are actually offended by the fact that Congressman Towns would invite someone who is such a supporter of big banks,” said Camille Rivera, of United New York, a non-profit that advocates for progressive economic policies.
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