Bank One Corp. has named former First Chicago NBD Corp. executive Mary Decker to be head of community reinvestment.

Ms. Decker, a senior vice president who held the Chicago banking company's community affairs post before last year's merger with Banc One Corp. of Columbus, Ohio, beat out counterpart Julia Johnson for the job.

Ms. Johnson, senior vice president and community reinvestment officer at the old Banc One, is expected to take another position in the merged company.

The appointment was made in late November, but no announcement was made.

Michael Shea, national housing director for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the appointment. "It's a good sign," he said; Bank One seems to be "changing its ways."

Community groups had been critical of the October merger. They had generally favorable opinions of First Chicago and of Ms. Decker but faulted the old Banc One's record on lending to the poor and minorities.

Ms. Decker has a background in Chicago development and housing issues. Before joining First Chicago in 1994 she spent four years as director of capital development for Cook County, Ill., and eight years as executive director of the metropolitan planning council in Chicago.

Ms. Johnson, a community reinvestment officer at Banc One since 1986, could not be reached for comment. Advocacy groups had criticized her unwillingness to negotiate community reinvestment programs. She had said in August that her company was "philosophically opposed" to entering into lending agreements with community groups.

In an interview last week Ms. Decker sounded conciliatory. "We're open to whatever is needed," she said, "but I also hasten to say there are many ways to do CRA very well."

First Chicago pledged to invest $10 billion in housing and development in Chicago and Detroit over the next three to 10 years. In addition to home lending, Ms. Decker said, the company would focus on small-business lending in poor neighborhoods.

Bank One is still unwilling to enter into a nationwide community reinvestment agreement, she said; it prefers to work on the local level.

Ms. Decker declined to speculate on why she was chosen. A spokesman said she "had an excellent track record with large urban markets." Activists said they view her appointment as a sign that their protests have had an effect.

Elizabeth Ryan, who heads the housing and banking staff for the National Training and Information Center, said her group has had a good working relationship with Ms. Decker. The group is one of two in Chicago that are benefiting from First Chicago's lending pledges of 1997.

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