Richard Cordray, Democratic candidate for Ohio governor, was welcomed to Washington C.H. by a capacity crowd Sunday evening inside the confines of Our Place Restaurant.
The former first-ever director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a position he was appointed to by President Obama, was greeted with enthusiastic cheers and applause from the nearly 130 in attendance as he was introduced at the annual Fayette County Democrats’ Obama Legacy Dinner.
Cordray said a major positive in returning to politics is being able to visit small communities like Washington C.H. and Fayette County.
“It’s been seven years since I’ve engaged in politics, I wasn’t allowed to participate in any politics when I was the head of the Consumer Bureau in D.C.,” said Cordray. “I wasn’t able to set foot in the Ohio Democratic Party building or come to any party dinners or party functions. So it’s a great pleasure to be here with such a great crowd. The last time I saw many of you, I was the Ohio Attorney General and before that the Ohio Treasurer. So I’ve already been in a couple of elected roles in state government, overseeing your money, which we were always very careful with. We also helped support small businesses throughout the state.”
Cordray was elected Ohio Attorney General in November 2008 to fill the remainder of the unexpired term ending January 2011. As attorney general, Cordray said his job was to bring back money from Wall Street to the people.
“People like it when you’re able to recover money and put it back in their pockets,” he said. “Especially when it’s money they thought they were never going to see again. We were able to recover over $2 billion dollars for Ohio’s pension systems, for retirees, businesses and taxpayers across the state. We worked very hard on that and I was proud of that work as your attorney general.”
In 2010, Cordray lost his reelection bid to current Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican who’s also running in the race for Ohio governor. However, a new opportunity soon came Cordray’s way.
“About three days after that election, I got a call from a woman in Washington who I didn’t know and had never met. Her name was Elizabeth Warren (U.S. Senator for Massachusetts). Anybody ever heard of her?” Cordray said jokingly, which elicited another enthusiastic cheer from the partisan crowd. “She wanted to approach me to come work at this new-fangled Consumer Financial Protection Bureau….it’s got one those real long Washington names.”
Cordray said he was initially hesitant to take the job because he wasn’t interested in moving to Washington D.C. and neither was his family. He and his wife, Peggy, have two children and live in Grove City.
“At the time, it was hard for me to see how this was going to work,” said Cordray. “But Elizabeth Warren told me that she has done long-distance commutes, it’s doable and that I could do it. She’s very persuasive. So next thing I knew, I said I would try it for a year or two and try to get back here on Fridays and spend long weekends with my kids. So I went to work at the bureau, and about six months later, she recommended me to President Obama to be the head of the Consumer Bureau. That was a bigger undertaking and a bigger commitment, but by that time, I could see that this agency was doing a lot of good. We were helping clean up the mortgage market, which had blown up the economy in 2008. We were helping to protect people against abusive debt collectors and payday lenders, and others who take advantage of people in the marketplace. We were getting money back to the people and we were giving people a voice.”
Cordray detailed how the bureau set up a complaint line in order for individuals to report consumer complaints.
“For example, I remember one father had a son in the military who was 19-years-old and had just started. When you’re first in the military, that often means you are on your own for the first time living away from home. You all the sudden have a guaranteed paycheck, and suddenly you’re a target for financial predators because they know the government is going to pay you every two weeks or every month,” Cordray said. “His son who was in the military got into a terrible, terrible problem. The father looked for help anywhere he could find, and he finally found his way to the Consumer Bureau. He filed a complaint with us. So we looked into it, we investigated it and we found that there were about 1,600 service members who had been abused to the same extent for thousands of dollars each. And I’m proud to say we got them all their money back and we recovered well over a million dollars.”
This story also was greeted by loud applause from the local Democrats.
Once Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Cordray said many Republicans started calling for his job.
“The complaint was always that I was too aggressive on behalf of consumers. Well, who are the consumers? It’s you and it’s you and it’s everybody in this room and everybody in our country, really. They just need to have somebody standing on their side and see that they’re being treated fairly…and that’s what we did,” Cordray said. “And I don’t mind being criticized for being aggressive for consumers because I felt we needed to re-balance the playing field in the financial marketplace and I was proud to get a chance to do that.
“As the year wore on, just before I left office, President Obama, whom we’re honoring tonight, wrote me a letter and said, ‘I’d like you to stay as long as you can be reasonably effective in this position because you’re doing great work, your team is doing great work and you need to keep it up.’ So I felt that it was a pledge and a responsibility that I had, and I stayed there for the most of last year against a lot of opposition. The Republicans tried to have me held in contempt of Congress a couple of times. They had me investigated, saying that I was politicking on the job. I was not and I was cleared. But this was the type of opposition throughout my time because they didn’t like the fact that we were still there, still doing our job, and still making things difficult for the big financial companies like Wells Fargo and Bank of America when there were problems.”
After Cordray and his team finished up more work related to payday lending, he decided his effectiveness, amid rumors that President Trump planned to fire him, was coming to an end. He left the agency in November of 2017 and officially announced his candidacy for Ohio governor on Dec. 5, 2017.
“It was time for me to get back to Ohio and join the race for governor,” he said. “Ohio is so important this year and the rest of the country will have its eyes on us to see if we can take back the government in this state. It’s big for not only 2018, but also 2020.”
Cordray said he’s fortunate to be joined on his ticket by lieutenant governor candidate, Betty Sutton, a former three-term congresswoman.
“When you meet her, you will like her,” he said. “She is a very strong figure, somebody who has had a career of public service in her own right. When she wasn’t involved in public service, she was a lawyer representing working people, trying to make sure they were treated fairly in the workplace. She will be a full partner in my efforts in the campaign, a full partner in my efforts in state government and a full partner for all of us as we plan to take back this state this year.”
Cordray said he and Sutton are running on issues important to Ohioans, such as access to affordable healthcare, improved education for adults and children, the spread of economic opportunity throughout the state, and the opportunity for individuals to set aside enough money for a secure and stable retirement.
“So what we can say to people this year is if you want a governor and lieutenant governor who are thinking about and focusing on the things that matter most to you and your lives, and has a track record of doing something about it and making change, and solving practical problems, then this is the ticket you should want,” Cordray said. “I welcome the Democratic primary coming up. If you embrace the primary, it can make you better because you have a chance to get your message out. It gets you down to a place like Fayette County in February, which is a very good thing.”
The remaining Democratic candidates for governor are Cordray, former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, Cleveland doctor Jon Heavey, Larry Ealy of Dayton, and Paul E. Ray of Alliance. The primary is May 8.
Reach Ryan Carter at 740-313-0352 or on Twitter @rywica