Break out the sunglasses and SPF 50, everyone; it’s scorched-earth time in Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary.
The race between Stacey Evans—the white, 40-year-old married lawyer and former state representative from Smyrna, Ga.—and Stacey Abrams, the black, 44-year-old lawyer, former Georgia House Democratic Caucus leader, Spelman grad, author and former owner of the Freaknik name (seriously)—was always going to be rough.
With about two weeks before the primary, and now down about 20 points in recent polling, Evans has launched a full burn-it-all, Killmonger-style wave of attacks on Abrams in hopes of narrowing the race. Look, if I were Evans, I would be attacking Abrams, too. Attacks take the focus away from Evans’ Martin Luther King Jr. blackface adventure, problematic campaign surrogates, past cozy relationship with the National Rifle Association and claims of ethics violations. Most importantly, attacks on Abrams keep reporters and pundits from spending too much time looking into Evans’ past as a lawyer at the Bryan Cave law firm.
Today, let’s reclaim some of that time. It turns out that during the housing crisis, when the U.S. economy was devastated by casinolike bank loans and predatory lenders, Evans was busy helping in the greatest theft of black wealth since Reconstruction. She profited off of policies that put thousands of black people out of their homes, and worked to justify bankrupting black families all over Georgia. So while it might be more fun to gossip about Abrams’ natural hair or law school debt, it might be more important to know what Evans was doing during the biggest financial crisis in our lifetimes.
The housing crisis and the Great Recession that followed bankrupted black America. Banks and shady lending companies specifically targeted black families for bad home loans, and when the families defaulted, these institutions snatched their property. This isn’t hyperbole; 50 percent of all black wealth in America was wiped out during the housing crisis, and although the recession is “over,” black homebuying still hasn’t recovered in Georgia.
“It’s absolutely still relevant because people are still suffering,” Tanya Washington, a professor at Georgia State College of Law and a housing-rights activist in Atlanta, told The Root. “There has been such a loss of wealth and property that we can’t recoup. You can’t go back and get that land back; you can’t go back and get that wealth back. We have less to pass on to our children and grandchildren.”
One of the worst offenders at the time was Countrywide Financial. Acquired by Bank of America in 2008, Countrywide was once voted the worst company in America, along with businesses like Halliburton, which helped start the Iraq War; and BP, which decimated the Gulf Coast with an oil spill.
What did Countrywide do? It routinely charged minority homebuyers higher fees than it did white families, and pushed black and Latino homebuyers into risky loans, causing thousands of families to default and end up homeless.
All of that was before it borrowed $51 billion from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta based on fraudulent mortgage documents so that it could continue “Robbin’ Season” unchecked. Bank of America was culpable in Countrywide’s business practices, even as it tried to pretend otherwise for years. Which is why the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta sued Countrywide and Bank of America for fraud and racketeering.
Which candidate in the Georgia Democratic primary was defending the banks in one of those lawsuits? Stacey Evans. If Countrywide was Thanos, it achieved its goal of wiping out half of black wealth in the universe, and Stacey Evans was there to polish the Infinity Gauntlet.
Evans worked as a lead attorney in Bank of America’s defense of its Countrywide subsidiary, filing paperwork from January until May 2011. The Root reached out to the Bryan Cave firm to discuss her role in detail, but members of her legal team were not at liberty to discuss the case. Nevertheless, Evans is listed as one of three lead attorneys, proving that she wasn’t some intern making copies; she was fully involved in defending these actions.
Countrywide was part of Bank of America and a known predatory lender and discriminator before Evans took the case. Furthermore, Cobb County, the district she represented in the Statehouse, was one of the areas in Georgia hardest hit by predatory lenders. So Evans’ defense of Bank of America was the legal equivalent of taking on R. Kelly as a client after you found out that he was (allegedly) running a sex cult in Atlanta while you’re working at an all-girls elementary school.
Countrywide eventually had to pay out $37 million to settle with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Atlanta for fraud and racketeering, and Bank of America reached a $335 million settlement with the Department of Justice for the largest payout on lending discrimination in American history.
During the primary campaign, Evans has bragged about standing up for the little guy as a lawyer, and she’s gone out of her way to surround herself with black surrogates who claim she’ll be great for the African-American community, even going so far as sending out flyers that feature mostly black folks but not her.
Strangely, Evans and her team have been awfully quiet about her cashing those bank checks while lenders were putting her black constituents out on the street.
A state Democrat’s stance on the banks and the housing crisis is just as important as where federal Democrats stood on the war in Iraq. It shows whether you’re a true progressive or you just slapped on a pink pussy hat and a #Resist bumper sticker once the political winds changed.
Everyone makes mistakes; even Hillary Clinton apologized for her Iraq War vote. What really matters is whether a politician takes responsibility for his or her actions. The problem is that Evans avoids her work with Bank of America like it was an old college hookup.
Did Evans quit because of what the banks were doing? Does she regret working for a predatory lender that targeted African Americans? Did she simply forget? How do her black surrogates reconcile their support for her? Unfortunately, getting a straight answer, or any answer, out of the Evans campaign has been difficult. The Root reached out to state Sen. Vincent Fort, an affordable-housing expert and Evans backer, to discuss these issues. After initially agreeing to an interview, he stopped answering our calls. Attempts to get a quote from the Evans campaign were not successful, either.
Considering that about 60 percent of the voters in the Georgia Democratic primary will be African American, Evans might want to speak up, since she certainly wouldn’t want to look like a white politician who defended, then profited off of racialized theft. Not to mention that she has passed no significant legislation to fix the problem since, and then turned around begging for black votes. It’s not a good look.
In the coming weeks, more attacks will fly back and forth between the Evans and Abrams campaigns. Some will be of substance, but most will be distractions. I’m sure that Abrams has an overdue library book somewhere, or reneged at the black legislators’ annual spades tournament, or accidentally took a selfie with Diamond and Silk at a Kanye West concert in 2012, and Evans will be there to highlight those flaws.
I’m reminded, however, of that old proverb: Those in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. And those in houses built off the tears, suffering and devastation of black families shouldn’t be throwing stones, either. But hey, unlike many of the constituents whose votes she’s begging for, Evans still has a house from which to throw stones.