UPDATE: Local Democrats will seek Watt's seat
UPDATED 2:45 P.M.
Three prominent area Democratic politicians — including two with ties to High Point — intend to run for the 12th Congressional District now that U.S. Rep. Mel Watt will leave the seat to head a federal agency.
State Reps. Alma Adams and Marcus Brandon said they definitely will seek the post that Watt will relinquish when he becomes head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Guilford County Commissioner Bruce Davis said he’s giving serious consideration to a run for the 12th District.
Two other prominent area Democrats — High Point Mayor Bernita Sims and former Guilford County commissioner Skip Alston of Greensboro — said they won’t run in the special election.
Watt, who has served parts of High Point in Congress for 20 years, ended more than a month of speculation Wednesday when he accepted President Barack Obama’s nomination to run the federal agency.
Watt still must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the post. But if he is, a special election would be held in the heavily Democratic-leaning district to fill the 12th District seat. The winner would hold the seat through the November 2014 general election in the district that reaches from Charlotte through the central Piedmont to the Triad.
Brandon, who lives in High Point, previously indicated he was leaning toward a run for Congress if Watt had to resign for the federal post. He told The High Point Enterprise Wednesday that he definitely will run.
In what’s expected to be a crowded Democratic field in a special election, Brandon said the key will be promoting ideas and securing name recognition throughout the district.
“You’re going to have to make sure you have the resources to get your name out there to the voters,” said Brandon, who’s serving his second term as a state legislator.
Davis, a veteran commissioner from High Point, said Wednesday that he’s seriously considering a run for the 12th District and will make a definite decision within the next week.
“We’ve talked to some key folks to get a feel for what’s going on and how we would proceed,” he said.
Davis said that his extensive experience as a commissioner has given him expertise on how local and regional governments work with the federal government on an array of issues.
“I think could help our area and be effective,” said Davis, a High Point small business owner who previously served in the Marine Corps.
Adams, a 10-term state legislator from Greensboro, said her experience in public service qualifies her to serve in Congress.
“I think I have a level of experience that will serve the citizens well,” she said.
Because it is a special election, Brandon, Davis and Adams could retain their current elected posts if they don’t win the congressional race. Only the winner of the special election would have to give up his or her current political post to become the 12th District congressional representative.
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President Barack Obama intends to nominate Rep. Melvin Watt, D-12th, to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the government regulator that oversees lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to White House officials.
Watt, who represents parts of High Point, would leave his congressional seat that he's held since the 1992 election. He is the only representative to have served in the heavily Democratic-leaning district since it was created 20 years ago.
Watt's departure is expected to create a rush of Democrats to fill his seat. State Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, of High Point already has expressed interest in succeeding Watt.
If confirmed by the Senate for the FHFA post, Watt would replace Edward DeMarco, an appointee of President George W. Bush who has been a target of housing advocates, liberal groups and Democratic lawmakers.
The White House officials spoke about the nominations on condition of anonymity since the selections had not yet been officially announced.
Watt's nomination comes at a crucial time for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two government sponsored mortgage-finance enterprises that the government rescued at the height of the financial crisis in September 2008 as they teetered neared collapse from losses on soured mortgage loans.
Taxpayers have spent about $170 billion to rescue the companies. So far, they have repaid a combined $55.2 billion.
Fannie and Freddie together own or guarantee about half of all U.S. mortgages, or nearly 31 million home loans. Those loans are worth more than $5 trillion. Along with other federal agencies, they back roughly 90 percent of new mortgages.
The nomination also comes as the housing industry is making a comeback. Home prices are up, foreclosures are down and housing construction is on the rise. Moreover, Fannie Mae had its biggest yearly profit last year, earning $17.2 billion.
Watt, a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee and former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, played an influential role in the passage of a financial regulatory overhaul in 2010. That legislation, however, did not address the fate of the major mortgage lenders, an issue likely to come up during Obama's second term.
Watt represents the Charlotte area, home base of behemoth Bank of America Corp. He becomes yet another high-profile African-American and the second North Carolinian nominated by Obama in three days to a top government post. On Monday, Obama nominated Anthony Foxx, mayor of Charlotte, to head the Transportation Department.
Watt, who has a consistently liberal voting record, is expected to face Republican opposition to his confirmation. The White House was already lining up supporters who might hold some sway with GOP senators.
Erskine Bowles, a fellow North Carolinian and former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, praised Watts as a first-rate selection. Both men were classmates at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Bowles, the Democrat in a debt-tackling partnership with former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming, said Watts brings "a bright mind, great work habits and an understanding of how Washington works to the job."
Hugh McColl, former Bank of America chairman and CEO, also welcomed Watt's nomination. McColl says he has known Watt for four decades, first meeting him through his brother-in-law, former Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., who attended Yale Law School at the same time as Watt.
"What he brings to everything, doesn't matter the subject, is an open mind," McColl said. "He has clarity of thought."
Charlotte is a major banking center, and the top donors to Watt's political campaigns over the years have been bank political action committees and bank officials and employees.
His nomination comes nearly a year after DeMarco, who has been acting director, stood by a decision to bar Fannie and Freddie from reducing principal for borrowers at risk of foreclosure, resisting pressure from the administration. DeMarco long has opposed allowing the mortgage giants to offer principal reduction.
In March, attorneys general from nine states, led by Democrats Eric Schneiderman of New York and Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, sent Obama a letter saying that under DeMarco, Fannie and Freddie have been a "direct impediment to our economic recovery."