In Turnabout, Builders Decide Clarke's an Ally

WASHINGTON - Having failed in an effort to unseat Robert L. Clarke as Comptroller of the Currency, a home builders' group now wants to put in a good word for him.

The turnabout comes a few weeks after Mr. Clarke met in a heated session with representatives of the National Association of Home Builders. The group's members were angry that banks have been reluctant to lend funds, and have suggested that Mr. Clarke is single-handledly responsible for the credit crunch.

A Promise of Help

Now it appears that Mr. Clarke has convinced the builders that he is aware of their concerns and can help out. The homebuilders' group responded by offering to write a letter to each member of the Senate, praising Mr. Clarke for trying to ease the flow of credit to the building industry.

The turning point came in an Aug. 5 meeting, in which Mr. Clarke and his staff spent two hours with home builders, explaining how a rule clarifying single-lender loan limits would help loosen bank credit.

During the session, Mr. Clarke waved a copy of the association's June 18 legislative alert, which called on builders to fight Mr. Clarke's nomination for a second term as Comptroller.

"He was not pleased," said Robert D. Bannister, senior vice president for government affairs for the group, which has 153,000 members.

How come? "It was a lot more vehement than seemed necessary," said Ellen Stockdale, a spokeswoman for Mr. Clarke.

The alert urged home builders to write their Senators and "let them know how the drying up of credit throughout the nation has taken a toll on your ability to make a living, as well as depriving Americans of the ability to own a home."

Ms. Stockdale said the home builders' campaign was the only organized effort to defeat Mr. Clarke that she was aware of.

But, she added, Mr. Clarke won't hold a grudge against the trade group.

Despite their truce with Mr. Clarke, the home builders remain worried about credit problems. "The credit crunch is alive and well," Mr. Bannister said.

Indeed, fewer houses will be built in 1991 than in any year since 1946. But the association's leadership says it's convinced that Mr. Clarke's is doing his best to get banks to lend.

To a degree, the home builders' turnabout is a face-saving measure. Members of the Senate Banking Committee haven't heard many complaints about Mr. Clarke's nomination from builders and developers in their home states, according to congressional staff members.

"If there have been any letters, it's certainly not enough to have us start counting," said an aide to Sen. Terry Sanford, D-N.C.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.