The Plank

John Edwards's Commitment Problems

The Washington Post's Alec MacGillis gets on the phone with John Edwards, who says:

"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."

I'm in no position to assess how he's doing on the first score, but he's failing on the second--at least judging from the rest of MacGillis's article:

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."

Edwards said he had to pull the plug because campaign supporters were less likely to give money to the program once he was out of the race. "But it served its purpose," he said. "A lot of kids benefited."

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."

MacGillis goes on to write of Edwards:

He realizes that his trangressions had only bolstered his longtime skeptics, but said that any cynicism about his motives on fighting poverty was "complete foolishness." "There's a reason why it's been many years since a politician made this issue central to him -- and, I might add, I didn't get elected," he said. "There aren't many votes in helping poor people. "

Most of all, he wants his most ardent supporters to believe that the message that drove his campaigns was solid, despite all later revelations about the candidate himself.

"It was real, 100 percent real," he said. "I want them to be proud of what I stood for, and of what the campaign stood for. The stands were honest and sincere and idealistic. They were what America needed then and needs now."

Yeah, tell it to the people in Greene County and New Orleans.

--Jason Zengerle

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