James A. Johnson, Democratic Power Broker, Dies at 76

James A. Johnson, Democratic Power Broker, Dies at 76


In 1988, James A. Johnson, a Democratic operative, was supporting Senator Lloyd Bentsen, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, put together for his debate with Senator Dan Quayle, his Republican opponent. In examining the study, Mr. Johnson discovered that Mr. Quayle frequently when compared himself to John F. Kennedy and told Mr. Bentsen and his group to count on him to do so at the debate.

When Mr. Quayle explained onstage that he experienced as a great deal encounter in Congress as Kennedy had when he sought the presidency, Mr. Bentsen pounced. “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” he said in a devastating riposte that stays 1 of the most memorable discussion moments in American political historical past.

“Jim Johnson was obviously the purpose the senator was prepared for that trade,” Jack Martin, a longtime Bentsen aide who was in the room at the time, said in an interview.

A pillar of the Washington institution, Mr. Johnson would parlay his extensive political expertise into a next job in finance and arise as a key electric power broker who simultaneously led 3 outstanding institutions: Fannie Mae, the Kennedy Heart and the Brookings Establishment.

Mr. Johnson died on Sunday at his dwelling in Washington. He was 76. His son, Alfred, reported the cause was problems of a neurological condition.

Mr. Johnson was so very well linked and held so many potent posts that Harold M. Ickes, also a Democratic operative and President Monthly bill Clinton’s deputy chief of personnel, informed The Washington Write-up in 1998 that he was “the chairman of the universe.”

Even Mr. Johnson experienced a difficult time describing what he did for a living. When persons would question, he stated in a 2016 oral record, he would say, “I do some kind of blend of general public plan, politics, governing administration, philanthropy and company.”

At another juncture, he spelled out his operate this way: “I converse.” But under no circumstances out of college. In 2004, as he declined to disclose particulars of the vice-presidential look for he was foremost for Senator John Kerry, he advised The New York Moments, “I would discreetly characterize myself as discreet.”

Continue to, he ran some of the most influential establishments in the nation’s money. The most consequential was Fannie Mae, the house loan-finance giant that he aided build into one particular of the dominant money institutions in the environment.

As chairman and chief govt, he led Fannie Mae to file gains its web earnings far more than tripled to $3.91 billion in 1999, the yr just after he retired. Mr. Johnson made an believed $100 million himself in 8 several years with the enterprise.

He proved an intense lobbyist for Fannie Mae — making strategic monetary donations to congressional regulators, selecting previous community officials from both of those events and shelling out for educational scientific studies that blunted criticism of some of the company’s riskier fiscal procedures. He was long absent prior to the subprime home finance loan crisis strike, but he was faulted for encouraging tactics that contributed to the 2008 housing meltdown.

Mr. Johnson was the “anonymous architect of the public-personal homeownership travel that just about wrecked the financial state in 2008,” Gretchen Morgenson, then a small business journalist at The New York Periods, and Joshua Rosner, a fiscal analyst, wrote in “Reckless Endangerment” (2011), which explored the origins of the monetary disaster.

They additional that Mr. Johnson was “especially adept at manipulating lawmakers” and “eviscerating regulators.”

In the 2016 oral record, Mr. Johnson skirted the controversies of his tenure at Fannie Mae. Alternatively he centered on the company’s plans of supporting low-revenue people, immigrants and youthful individuals acquire home loans and personal their individual homes, which he claimed was part of the American aspiration.

He also shared a piece of information that he experienced gained though jogging Fannie Mae: “Never say you’re in the secondary property finance loan industry say you are in the American aspiration business.”

Certainly, during his job he supported racial and economic equality, commencing with his participation in the 1965 civil legal rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., whilst he was in school.

Later, when he was chairman of the John F. Kennedy Heart for the Doing Arts, he and his spouse at the time, Maxine Isaacs, established and underwrote the Millennium Phase, which gives absolutely free live shows and other performances 365 times a calendar year, producing the elite Kennedy Center extra accessible.

And as chairman of the Brookings Institution, a liberal investigation team, he recruited students, writers and thinkers to review demographic trends in urban spots and the intersection of race and community coverage. With funding from the Fannie Mae Foundation, he started the institution’s Middle on Urban and Metropolitan Plan, now the Metropolitan Policy Application.

James Arthur Johnson was born on Dec. 24, 1943, in Benson, Minn., a little city alongside the Chippewa River the place his Norwegian grandparents experienced settled. Within just two blocks, there have been 14 houses stuffed with his aunts, uncles and cousins.

His mom, Adeline (Rasmussen) Johnson, taught Latin and German at the community significant school. His father, Alfred Ingvald Johnson, owned a grocery keep and was a true estate broker. A member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Celebration, he was elected to the point out legislature and grew to become speaker of the Home in the late 1950s.

Jim attended the College of Minnesota, where by he was elected pupil overall body president in his sophomore calendar year. He graduated in 1966 with a diploma in political science.

After earning his master’s diploma in general public policy at Princeton in 1968, he signed on with Eugene J. McCarthy’s antiwar presidential marketing campaign. He would go on to operate for quite a few Democratic presidential hopefuls in excess of the next 4 a long time, which include Edmund Muskie, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Al Gore and Senator Kerry.

None grew to become president, but Mr. Johnson taken care of a status as a pragmatic, shrewd and trustworthy insider.

When Mr. Mondale was elected vice president in 1976, Mr. Johnson grew to become his executive assistant.

“He and I both were from Minnesota,” Mr. Mondale recalled in an interview, “and we spoke the exact language.”

Soon after Mr. Mondale’s expression finished in 1981, Mr. Johnson formed Public Strategies, a political consulting organization, with Richard C. Holbrooke, who became a major diplomat in numerous Democratic administrations.

Mr. Johnson returned to politics to manage Mr. Mondale’s ill-fated campaign for president in 1984. Mr. Mondale explained in the interview that his landslide reduction of 49 states to President Ronald Reagan was no reflection on Mr. Johnson. “I wasn’t a incredibly great prospect,” he said.

Mr. Johnson and Mr. Holbrooke marketed General public Approaches in 1985 to Shearson Lehman Brothers, where by they both grew to become running administrators in the expense banking division. Mr. Johnson left in 1990 to be part of Fannie Mae as vice chairman he grew to become chairman and main government in 1991.

He stayed out of presidential politics though at Fannie Mae. After leaving, he returned for delicate jobs, assisting Democratic candidates with their vice-presidential choice, discussion negotiations and transition organizing.

He briefly led the vice-presidential selection approach for Senator Barack Obama in 2008, but he stepped down pursuing a Wall Street Journal report that he experienced received preferential loan fees from Countrywide Economic, the mortgage loan organization at the heart of the subprime lending disaster.

In addition to his son, Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Heather Muir Kirby, a controlling director at Deutsche Lender a sister, Marilyn LaMourea and a grandson. His marriages to Katherine Marshall and Ms. Isaacs ended in divorce.

Immediately after leaving Fannie Mae, Mr. Johnson joined the boards of quite a few organizations, like Goldman Sachs and Goal. Due to the fact 2011, he experienced been chairman of the advisory council of the Stanford Middle on Longevity, which seeks to employ technological developments to enable more mature persons are living balanced and satisfying lives.



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