Melvin Watt

Melvin Watt

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  • Former Democratic Member of Congress
  • Former Member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus & the Congressional Black Caucus
  • Former Director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency
  • Was charged & convicted in 2018 of sexual harassment


Melvin Watt was born in Steele Creek, North Carolina on August 26, 1945 and grew up in a Charlotte suburb called Dixie. After graduating in 1967 with a B.S. degree in Business Administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he went on to earn a J.D. at Yale Law School in 1970 and then spent 22 years (1970-1992) as a civil-rights lawyer with the firm formerly known as Chambers, Stein, Ferguson, and Becton, where he specialized in minority-business and economic-development law. A lifelong Democrat, Watt also served one term (1985-1987) in the North Carolina state senate. Moreover, he managed several of Harvey Gantt‘s political campaigns — including Gantt’s successful runs for Charlotte city council (in the 1970s and ’80s) and Charlotte mayor (in the 1980s), as well as his failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 1990.

Congressman Watt

In 1992, Watt ran for a congressional seat in the newly gerrymandered 12th District of North Carolina, whose population was 64 percent black. He won the Democratic primary with 47 percent of the vote in a four-way race, and in November he easily won the general election with 70 Percent of the vote — thus becoming his state’s first African-American member of Congress in 92 years. A lifetime member of the NAACP, Watt soon joined the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the Congressional Progressive Caucus in the House of Representatives.

In July 1996, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) endorsed Watt in his congressional reelection bid that year.

At the Democratic National Convention in August 1996, Watt participated in a Progressive Caucus meeting sponsored by the DSA.

In the fall of 2004, Watt was unanimously elected to a two-year term as chairman of the CBC.

Ralph Nader Accuses Watt of Using Racial Epithet Against Him

In 2004 as well, Ralph Nader attended a Congressional Black Caucus meeting where he clashed with CBC members who objected to his independent presidential bid, which was expected to siphon crucial votes away from Democratic nominee John Kerry. After the meeting, Nader claimed that Watt had twice directed an “obscene racial epithet” towards him during the meeting. Specifically, Nader alleged that Watt had said: “You’re just another arrogant white man — telling us what we can do — it’s all about your ego — another fucking arrogant white man.” Nader subsequently wrote a letter to the Caucus and to Watt, demanding that the congressman apologize tor his offensive remarks, but no apology was given.

Speaker at “Take Back America” Conference

Watt was one of 153 speakers scheduled to speak at the 2006 “Take Back America” conference organized by the Institute for Policy Studies and the Campaign for America’s Future, the latter of which was controlled by the DSA.

Watt’s Voting Record

Throughout Watt’s time in Congress, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) consistently rated his voting record as 90-to-95 percent on the left side of legislation. During his years as a lawmaker in the U.S. House, Watt voted:

  • against Megan’s Law, which requires the registration of sex offenders (he was the only member of Congress to oppose this measure);
  • against the development of a national missile-defense system;
  • against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001;
  • against the post-9/11 anti-terrorism measure known as the Patriot Act;
  • against allowing the U.S. government to use electronic surveillance to investigate suspected terrorist operatives;
  • against a bill permitting the government to combat potential terrorist threats by monitoring foreign electronic communications which are routed through the United States;
  • against an October 2002 joint resolution authorizing U.S. military action in Iraq;
  • against the establishment of military commissions to try enemy combatants captured in the war on terror;
  • in favor of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq immediately and by a preordained date;
  • against President Bush’s 2007 decision to deploy some 21,500 additional U.S. soldiers in an effort to quell the violent insurgents in Iraq;
  • in favor of a proposal to expedite the transfer of all prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detention center;
  • against requiring hospitals to report (to the federal government) illegal aliens who receive emergency medical treatment;
  • against the Real ID Act, which proposed to set minimal security requirements for state driver licenses and identification cards;
  • against separate proposals calling for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing to prevent illegal immigration along America’s southern border;
  • against a proposal to grant state and local officials the authority to investigate, identify, and arrest illegal immigrants;
  • against major tax-cut proposals in September 1998, February 2000, March 2000, July 2000, May 2001, May 2003, and May 2006;
  • against separate welfare-reform bills designed to move people off the welfare rolls and into paying jobs;
  • in favor of prohibiting oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR);
  • against a proposal to fund offshore oil exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf; and
  • against the “Born-Alive Infants Protection Act,” which provided that if a baby somehow survived an abortion procedure, medical efforts should be made to save its life (rather than permitting it to die of neglect).

Watt also voted against a resolution honoring Founding Father George Washington for his famous letter to a Rhode Island synagogue assuring its Jewish members that America gave “to bigotry no sanction.” Said Watt regarding his vote: “For us to be applauding the statements discussing bigotry that were written by a person who owned slaves is a little bit more than I can, without a churning stomach, be able to tolerate.”

For additional details on Watt’s voting record, click here.

Watt’s Policy Positions

As matters of principle, Watt believes that:

  • all women should have an unrestricted right to abortion-on-demand at any stage of pregnancy – subsidized by taxpayers, in cases of economic hardship;
  • public and private employers alike should be legally required to implement affirmative-action hiring and promotion policies that give preference to African Americans and women, as compensation for historical injustices;
  • the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is an excellent statute that can serve as a strategic stepping stone toward the eventual implementation of a government-run, single-payer healthcare system;
  • the principle of church-state separation is inviolable and should preclude permitting prayer in the public schools, or the posting of the Ten Commandments in public places;
  • voucher programs designed to enable low-income parents to send their children to private schools rather than to failing public schools, constitute bad policy because they rob the public schools of vital resources;
  • the discretion of judges and juries should not be diminished by formulaic sentencing policies like “Three Strikes” laws;
  • the death penalty should be abolished as “cruel and unusual punishment”;
  • more guns in the hands of private citizens inevitably result in higher levels of crime, thus the availability of firearms should be restricted by whatever means are effective;
  • restrictions on immigration are basically racist because they tend to prevent Hispanics and other non-whites from entering the United States;
  • social services should be available to all U.S. residents regardless of their immigration status;
  • illegal aliens should be offered amnesty if they have been productive members of society;
  • voter ID laws are counterproductive because they make it more difficult for people to cast their ballots in political elections;
  • an ever-increasing reliance on “green energy” sources such as wind and solar should be put in place, along with the phasing out of fossil fuels, the imposition of carbon taxes, and the raising of vehicle CAFE standards;
  • federal spending on public infrastructure projects and job programs is crucial to the success of any economic recovery program;
  • the nationalization of banks and corporations is preferable to federal bailouts of those entities.

Director of Federal Housing Finance Agency

After being re-elected to the U.S. House every two years through 2012, Watt was nominated by President Barack Obama on May 1, 2013, to direct the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). The U.S. Senate confirmed Watt on December 10, 2013, and he resigned from his House seat on January 6, 2014 in order to begin his new job with FHFA.

Charged & Convicted of Sexual Harassment

On September 27, 2018, Watt was called to testify before Congress regarding allegations that he had made multiple inappropriate sexual advances against Simone Grimes, a female employee at FHFA, when she attempted to discuss her career and salary concerns with Watt in 2016, and that she had been denied promotions because she reported the harassment.

According to documents and partial transcripts that Politico obtained and then published in a July 27, 2018 report, the accuser, who filed an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, alleged that:

  • Watt had opened up a discusion about the nature of his feelings for the woman in a 2016 meeting with her.
  • Watt had asked, in a separate encounter, about a tattoo on the woman’s ankle, saying: “If I kissed that one, would it lead to more?”
  • Watt had told the woman during a car drive in April 2016: “Well, you probably want to know what I wanted to talk to you about. I mentioned to you there is an attraction here that I think needs to be explored. In my experience there are four types of attraction: emotional, spiritual, sexual or of friendship. So, the exercise here is to find out which one exists here.” The woman then attempted to short-circuit the conversation by saying: “If I gave you that impression in any way, that was not intentional. My impression was that you wanted to discuss the work-related items I’ve been talking to [a superior] about. But, if that’s not the case, then I think I should take you back to FHFA. Because I don’t want any confusion here.”
  • In a transcript dated June 17, 2016, Watt had again suggested that he wished to kiss a tattoo on the woman’s ankle, to which she replied: “Is that what we’re here to talk about? Because I already told you I don’t want to have conversations like that with you.” Watt then retorted, “No, no,” before immediately changing the subject to “resolv[ing] the pay situation you’ve been bringing up.”
  • In another conversation dated November 11, 2016, Watt had asked the woman why she had “rejected my advances.” When she informed the congressman that she was in a relationship with another man, Watt said: “I love my wife too. Having an attraction for someone else doesn’t have to mean you don’t love them.”

On November 29, 2018, Watt was found guilty of two counts of misconduct, and he thereafter ended his tenure as FHFA director when his term came to a close on January 6, 2019. According to a February 15, 2019 report in Politico:

“Mel Watt misused his position as the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency in attempting ‘to coerce or induce’ a subordinate ‘to engage in a personal relationship with him’ by dangling the possibility of a promotion, according to an inspector general’s report made public today. ‘We find that there are no circumstances under which it would be appropriate for the head of FHFA to induce a subordinate employee to meet with him alone, in his apartment, for a conversation in which he professes his attraction for that employee and holds out opportunities for the employee to serve in specific executive positions over which he exercises total control,’ the FHFA Office of Inspector General said in the report.”

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