John Edwards and the Ninth Ward



“I’m hoping and praying he’s doing it to help me get back in my house, and not for publicity.” — Ninth Ward homeowner Orelia Tyler, Dec. 28, 2006, the day John Edwards declared his candidacy in the 2008 Presidential race in her front yard.

Today's Washington Post carries the first in-depth interview with Edwards since he dropped out of the race, and subsequently dropped from public view in disgrace after he admitted to lying about an affair he conducted with Rielle Hunter (who was with him in that Ninth Ward front yard while his wife stayed home). In the story, by Alec MacGillis, Edwards refuses to talk about the affair or his wife's memoir, but spends a good deal of time talking about the work he's been doing among the poor in El Salvador: "The two things I'm on the planet for now are to take care of the people I love and to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves."

But what of the people of the Ninth Ward? MacGillis finds out:

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, residents who had been foreclosed on after Hurricane Katrina by subprime lenders owned by Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund that Edwards worked for and invested with, have not received the special assistance that Edwards promised after their troubles were reported by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in 2007.

Edwards, who launched his campaign in a Katrina-stricken section of New Orleans, had vowed in 2007 that he would raise $100,000 to set up a fund that, administered by the anti-poverty group Acorn, would see to it that the 32 affected homeowners would be made whole.

Among the homeowners were Ernest and Ollie Grant, whose storm-damaged house faced foreclosure by Fortress-owned Nationstar Mortgage, on an adjustable rate loan that shot to $1,200 per month. The Grants say that after months of waiting for Acorn to call them, they reached out on their own and found a helpful employee, "Miss Kristi," who got their monthly payment down to $649.

But six months ago, Nationstar started sending letters saying the payment was going back up above $900. The Grants called Acorn back, but Miss Kristi was gone, and others there provided no help. With their home finally fixed up, they are again worried about losing it. They bristle at Edwards' name.

"I just thought he was trying to cover his tracks while he was a candidate. I even told my wife that if he didn't win, we would feel these repercussions just like we're doing," said Ernest Grant. "It was probably all for show in the end."

Another resident, Eva Comadore, says she never heard from anyone after the day when a TV news crew came to ask her about the promise. Comadore had lost her home to foreclosure by GreenTree Servicing, another Fortress company, in May 2007. Since then, she has been paying $400 a month, two-thirds of her Social Security, to rent a trailer owned by her sister.

"All I know is they were supposed to make some kind of agreement to settle with us but they never did," she said.

Acorn spokesman Scott Levenson said the group had trouble finding the 32 homeowners. He said the group received $50,000, not $100,000, and that it went to the group's general mortgage counseling program in New Orleans.

Edwards said the $50,000 came from him. "I wanted to make a good faith effort " he said. "Obviously, a problem this deep and widespread would not be solved by an individual presidential candidate."

And they're not alone:

Other Edwards initiatives have fallen by the wayside. One week before confirming the affair, he pulled the plug on College for Everyone, a program he started in 2005 at Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, N.C., which paid the first-year college tuition of any graduate who stayed out of trouble and worked 10 hours per week, at a total cost of about $300,000 per year. Edwards touted the program often on the campaign trail, calling it the first step toward a nationwide financial aid initiative.

But assistant superintendent Patricia McNeill said many had been bracing for the program's end once Edwards dropped out of the presidential contest. "Our children today are very astute and they are cognizant of what goes on in the political world," she said. Among those who were taken by surprise was Lavania Edwards, no relation, a pre-kindergarten teacher who is still looking for help to cover the college costs of her son Malik, who graduated from high school last week. "We were really planning on that helping," she said. "I was disappointed and I wondered what happened in that they couldn't continue with the program -- or why no one came out to us with a definite answer."

Meanwhile, John Edwards is talking about going back to El Salvador:

"When I'm on my deathbed, I don't think I'll be thinking, did I work enough or earn enough money," he said. He plans to return to El Salvador next month. "Whether I'm digging a ditch or hammering a nail, I don't have any pride in this anymore, I just want to help," he said.

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