Rep. Maxine Waters (D- Westchester), who is facing ethics charges stemming from her alleged involvement with a community bank, still retains popularity among many of her constituents, including those in Westchester and Playa del Rey.
The congresswoman, who has served the 35th Congressional District since 1990, is slated to appear before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on Nov. 29. She stands accused of “improperly exerting” influence over Treasury Department officials when she sought bank bailout money for OneUnited Bank, even as her husband owned significant stock in the company.
OneUnited, one of the largest minority banks in the nation, received $12 million in federal bailout funds.
The House Ethics Committee charged Waters with three counts of ethics violations including an allegation that she allowed her chief of staff, who is also her grandson, to intervene on behalf of the bank.
Waters could have chosen to settle her case through a plea bargain but she has chosen to forcefully defend herself and demanded a public trial.
At a press conference on Aug. 13, Waters expressed a willingness to confront the charges against her and implored Congress to release the statement of violation, which contains the allegations against her, to the public.
“I am indeed eager to be able to have an opportunity to present my case, and that is why I have requested that the Standards Committee schedule a hearing as soon as possible,” Waters told reporters at a press conference in Washington, D.C. “Such a delay is unacceptable, considering that the investigation has dragged out for almost one year. It does not provide due process, it prevents my constituents and the American public from getting answers, and it delays me from being able to respond to charges spelled out in the (statement of violation).”
The charges were released shortly afterward.
Two instances locally underscore Waters’ ability to bring rapid results for her constituents when they are facing difficult challenges. In September 2008, residents at Mar Vista Gardens in Del Rey had their mail carrier removed following a shooting at the public housing complex. Tenants complained of being forced to go to Culver City to retrieve their mail and the postal carriers union refused to consider providing another carrier to the complex.
Ruth Goldway, a former Santa Monica mayor and now a commissioner with the United States Postal Service, intervened along with Waters to negotiate an agreement that brought another mail carrier to Mar Vista Gardens a week before Christmas.
“What she did was great for Mar Vista Gardens, because there are a lot of senior citizens there who had to walk a long way to the front gate to get their mail when we didn’t have a carrier,” said Enrique Fernandez, who grew up in Mar Vista Gardens and whose mother still lives there. “I think (Waters) has been a pretty good representative for Del Rey.”
The second incident occurred this year when wireless provider T-Mobile informed a couple in Westchester that it was planning to install a cellular phone tower outside their home. The Argonaut contacted the congresswoman, who intervened with T-Mobile on behalf of the Yips, the Westchester homeowners. Three days later, the wireless company decided to withdraw its application for the residential tower.
“Due to neighborhood opposition, we are backing away from our proposed site in Westchester and, thus, will not be building the T-Mobile cell site,” Joseph Thompson, a T-Mobile spokesman, wrote.
Waters personally called the Yips to inform them that T-Mobile had backed away from erecting the tower.
“I’m very appreciative that (Waters) called us. That was very nice of her,” Jeffrey Yip said.
But not all of her Westside constituents are fans of the incumbent congresswoman. Charles Ecker, a Playa del Rey homeowner, is supporting Waters’ opponent, Bruce Brown, a civil engineer, in the Nov. 2
“My wife and I are very concerned about being overtaxed and underrepresented,” Ecker, who switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party five years ago, said. “I’ve also never seen her in the district.”
Ecker said several Westside homeowners had also suffered a number of foreclosures during Waters’ most recent term in Congress. “We’ve seen a lot of them in the western portion of our district,” he claimed.
On Oct. 6, the congresswoman sent letters to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco, and Federal Housing Administration Commissioner David Stevens, asking each of them to ensure that their agencies fully use their authority to investigate the mortgage servicing companies, enforce regulations and take steps to monitor compliance.
“It appears that some major mortgage servicers processed tens of thousands of documents a month to rush to foreclose on properties, and it is likely that many families wrongly lost their homes as a result,” Waters wrote. “This should not happen, and we must not tolerate such actions.”
Westchester resident Diane Landis credited Waters for reacting so quickly when T-Mobile sought to install its tower on the Yips’ street.
“She really jumped on it,” Landis, a friend of the Yips, said. “She recognized that this was a serious problem with these wireless companies trying to come into residential neighborhoods.”
Ecker said he will not render an opinion on the ethics trial until it is over. “I think we should let it play out,” he said.
Landis said “the timing was right” for Waters to intercede on the T-Mobile proposed tower installation.
“She really took the bull by the horns and followed through,” she said.
Fernandez said the congresswoman stepped up “in a big way” when Mar Vista Gardens residents needed her. “She really showed good leadership,” he added.
Waters continues to enjoy strong support in south Los Angeles, Inglewood and Gardena, where her largest base of support has been since she was elected to her first term in 1990. She has routinely won reelection with over 70 percent of the vote.
“Whenever you are a leader, you’re going to be attacked,” said Rev. John J. Hunter, the pastor of the First African Methodist Church of South Los Angeles.
From the outset, Waters has professed her innocence and argued for a public trial. Earlier this month, Waters told her constituents that she had sought to have the trial before the Nov. 2 mid-term election.
“After an investigation that has lasted over a year, I am eager to have the opportunity to clear my name,” the congresswoman said in a statement. “I would have liked for this matter to be resolved before the election in November and have repeatedly called for a hearing to be scheduled as soon as possible.”
As has been her custom, Waters took on her critics with fiery rhetoric and expressed confidence that she would be vindicated of the ethics charges.
“I will defend myself vigorously because I have not violated any House rules, and I will not allow anyone to suggest my life’s work has been motivated by anything other than the public interest,” Waters reiterated. “The facts and the evidence are on my side. No benefit, no improper action, no failure to disclose, no one influenced: no case.”