WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is considering nominating Texas banker Alfonso Martinez-Fonts Jr. to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, sources close to the White House confirmed Tuesday.
The chairman and chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan Chase Bank of Texas in El Paso is said to be on the shortlist of candidates to fill two current vacancies on the seven-person board. The White House is expected to expedite the appointment process, given Fed Governor Edward W. Kelley Jr.'s announcement Monday that he will resign as soon as one of the vacancies is filled.
A spokesman for Mr. Martinez-Fonts declined to comment.
Mr. Martinez-Fonts, who immigrated with his family from Cuba to New York in 1960, when he was 11, began his career there with Chemical Bank. It sent him to the Philippines in 1976; to Mexico, where he became regional manager, in 1982; and to San Antonio in 1988 as president of subsidiary Texas Commerce Bank-San Antonio, which was merged into what is now J.P. Morgan Chase Bank of Texas.
A self-described "Cuban refugee capitalist" and "nonconventional conventional banker," according to reports in Texas newspapers, Mr. Martinez-Fonts personifies the compassionate conservative theme on which President Bush campaigned.
The San Antonio Business Journal reported in 1993: "Mr. Martinez-Fonts says that his time in the Philippines and Mexico brought home to him firsthand the tremendous differences in the lifestyles of the poor and rich. And that experience helped make him a strong proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he believes can bring a better life to the less fortunate in Mexico."
At the time Mr. Martinez-Fonts was chairman of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and lobbying Congress to establish free trade among the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
He was a strong advocate for small businesses as head of the chamber. "We're changing the focus so that very strongly the small-business side is the major emphasis," he told the Business Journal.
Mr. Martinez-Fonts is a board member of ACCION International, a charitable organization that provides "micro" loans to U.S. and Latin American entrepreneurs such as street vendors, seamstresses, and sandal makers.
"These businesspeople have gone as far as they can with cash advances, credit cards, loan sharks, and borrowing from relatives. They need micro-credit to take the next steps toward success," Mr. Martinez-Fonts was quoted as saying in a 1999 American Management Association report.
His reputation in the Texas banking community owes much to this philanthropy. "He's very active civically, very active with charitable organizations and on community reinvestment issues," said John Heasley, executive vice president of the Texas Bankers Association.