Edwards acknowledges difficult public image
Disgraced former Democratic candidate throws himself into charity work to salvage his reputation.
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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.Skip to next paragraph
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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."
In 2007, Edwards said he had gone to work at Fortress because his family needed the income, despite holdings then estimated at $30 million. But in the interview, he said he was no longer fixated on finding lucrative work. "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. "If I can help the most by working quietly, that's what I'll do. If as time goes by I can be more helpful with a public role, that's what I will do. "
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."