In these times of political polarization, flip-flops versus stubborn stay-the-courses, swift boat vets and sluggish war abroad, National Association of Mortgage Brokers President Bob Armbruster has a difficult job: maintaining bipartisan communication in what is possibly the most heated presidential campaign of our lifetime. Three months ago, NAMB Government Affairs Vice President Roy DeLoach traveled to Boston for the Democratic National Convention (Bob was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts). This time, it was Bob's turn, and the atmosphere in New York made Boston look like a tea party. Together with Roy and Government Affairs Committee Chair Marc Savitt, he flew into the Big Apple on the eve of the Republican National Convention, when close to a half-million Americans marched past Madison Square Garden to protest the Bush Administration and the RNC's presence in New York. Throughout the week, both legal and illegal protests were staged throughout the city. Republican delegates were followed by activists; a few even made it to the convention floor. The good news: NAMB's hotel was in lower Manhattan, far away from the ruckus of midtown ... but poignantly close to Ground Zero. During the last week of August, New York was a very small town.
The Mortgage Press' offices are located just outside of the city, so I was able to catch up with Bob on his last day in town. I chose a lunch spot in the offbeat East Village, a neighborhood consciously separated from the city's hustle and bustle. Even here, however, politics were present. Drawn on a wall across the street from our café were two opposing arrows, one pointing toward "Bush," the other toward "Truth." At one point, a man walked by, dressed in a chicken suit, brandishing an American flag and a band of bullets draped across his chest. Strange, even for New York's East Village. In today's political climate, even chickens are choosing sides.
But not NAMB. Bob was quick to point out that their presence at the RNC should not be construed as an endorsement of Bush-Cheney, nor should their presence in Boston be interpreted as endorsing Kerry-Edwards. NAMB's primary purpose in New York, beyond emboldening the voice of the mortgage broker amid the clamor of today's "big" issues, was to attend the housing trade group meeting, an annual gathering sponsored by Freddie Mac, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America, the National Association of Homebuilders and a host of other industry organizations. Also on NAMB's schedule was a dinner salute to the House Financial Services Committee at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center. The event is a chance to thank Rep. Michael Oxley and his committee for their past accomplishments, and also discuss future goals. For NAMB, this means a uniform national standard for the mortgage industry that will (finally) level the playing field and streamline the patchwork of state laws. NAMB has even drafted a simplified, standardized mortgage package and closing instructions that would reduce the amount of paperwork required at the closing table. Also stressed was the need to enforce existing laws, rather than heaping more legislation on an already over-burdened industry.
NAMB carried this message through a whirlwind of lobbying efforts that took them from the Copacabana, to the U.S.S. Intrepid, to the floor of Madison Square Garden. Included on the itinerary was a fund-raiser for Rep. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who is running for the Senate seat now occupied by Sen. Zell Miller, a private reception for Sen. Miller, the RNC's keynote speaker, a reception for Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a luncheon honoring Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and a reception for Rep. Bob Ney. The team from NAMB was also on the floor of Madison Square Garden to hear First Lady Laura Bush and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
By the time I sat down with Bob, he had spent several days crisscrossing the city, disseminating NAMB's message among lawmakers and delegates. He was exhilarated, and tired. Earlier that morning, Wholesale Access had released new research figures indicating that brokers' market share has decreased by 10-12 percent, probably the result of a slow-down in some market segments. Still, people would have questions. Bob checked the e-mail on his Blackberry ... an NAMB member was upset over the association's support of the Kerry-Edwards Campaign's call for a national uniform lending standard. He would have to contact her, later.
After lunch, we took a taxi to Ground Zero, where windows are still boarded up and firefighters still look weary. Then we walked to the water and looked at the Statue of Liberty. New York is a brave city, even when we're divided politically. So much of the country is these days. Bob was flying out the following morning to continue his travels to various state conferences. The coming weeks would take him from Biloxi, Miss. to Oconomowoc, Wis. to Denver. He would continue talking with lawmakers about what's best for the industry and consumers. He would talk about his plans with NAMB members nationwide. He would e-mail that concerned member to explain that NAMB is not endorsing a candidate, but rather, supporting all lawmakers who make smart decisions for the industry. There is much work to do.
And in this political climate, bipartisanship is a tough platform to sell.