UPDATE @ 4:50 p.m. (Nov. 24)
Democrat Rich Cordray sent President Donald Trump a letter, formally resigning his federal job at the end of today, Nov. 24.
“I am writing to inform you that I am resigning my position as the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau effective at the close of business (midnight) on Friday, November 24, 2017,” Cordray’s letter reads. “It has been one of the great joys of my life to have had the opportunity to serve as the first director of the Consumer Bureau for the past six years.”
This would leave room for Cordray to enter the Ohio governor race in 2018.
EARLIER REPORT (Nov. 15)
Ohio’s crowded field for governor could get more crowded now that Democrat Rich Cordray plans to leave his federal job, sending a strong signal that he is ready to launch another statewide bid.
Cordray, a holdover from the Obama administration, announced Wednesday he is stepping down as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by the end of November.
He would not say whether he plans to run for governor, but his candidacy has long been seen as a strong possibility by political insiders. Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general and Ohio treasurer, and probably the best known among the Democrats in the current field.
His decision to leave his job as a champion for consumers did not seem to sit well with some Democrats. Faith Oltman, a spokeswoman for Dayton Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Nan Whaley, said, “Cordray is turning his back on the progress we’ve made and surely emboldening (President Donald) Trump and Republicans in Congress to dismantle this consumer watchdog organization.”
Former Ohio Rep. Connie Pillich, another Democrat in the field, said in a statement: “It’s disheartening and disappointing that my friend, Richard Cordray, would abandon his role of protecting our nation’s consumers by turning over this critical agency to Donald Trump.” She added: “I look forward to seeing Rich on the campaign trail.”
In an email message to his employees on Wednesday, Cordray wrote: “Together we have made a real and lasting difference that has improved people’s lives, notably: $12 billion in relief recovered for nearly 30 million consumers; stronger safeguards against irresponsible mortgage practices that caused the financial crisis and hurt millions of Americans; giving people a voice by handling over 1.3 million complaints that led to problems getting fixed for vast numbers of individuals, and creating new ways to bring financial education to the public so that people can take more control over their economic lives.”
Cordray has led the bureau since 2008 and his term was set to end in July 2018. The bureau, which was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation, is loathed by Republicans — and by Trump — who say it is an unaccountable federal agency with too much power.
Ken Blackwell, former Domestic Policy Advisor to the Trump Presidential Transition Team and a former Ohio state treasurer, took a shot at both the bureau and Cordray following the announcement.
“Under his direction, the CFPB has issued thousands of pages of crushing regulations, some of which have irreparably harmed consumers, and crippled American businesses,” Blackwell said. “If Director Cordray decides to run for Governor, which is highly anticipated, the people of Ohio should be wary of his crony behavior and reject his candidacy outright.”
But a Cordray candidacy would instantly bring more attention to the Democratic side of the race, where the candidates are less known than on the Republican side. The Republicans running are Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci.
The Democrats are Whaley, Pillich, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill.
Cordray, 58, by far has the most statewide experience, running for statewide office five times and winning twice. And his ties to former President Obama and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who helped establish the consumer bureau, could help him in the mad dash to raise some $20 million needed to run a credible gubernatorial campaign.
Kyle Kondik, author of The Bellwether: Why Ohio Picks the President, said Cordray will need a strong campaign launch if he wants to clear or reduce the field in the Democratic primary.
“I don’t know if Cordray is strong enough to force people out of the race, but maybe he gets some high profile endorsements off the bat, like Elizabeth Warren or even maybe Barack Obama,” said Kondik, who worked for Cordray in the Ohio Attorney General’s office in 2009 and 2010.
Related: Hero to some, Ohio’s Rich Cordray under fire from GOP, banksA Cordray candidacy wouldn’t be a slam-dunk. He has been gone from the Ohio political scene for several years, and his last statewide race ended in defeat when he lost the attorney general’s race to DeWine in 2010.
As state treasurer in 2008, Cordray also hired Amer Ahmad into a high-level position. After Cordray moved to the attorney general’s office, Ahmad remained at the state treasury, where he pulled off the biggest bribery and kickback scheme in Ohio treasury history.
Ahmad is currently in prison.
Cordray, who lives in suburban Columbus, does have a lengthy resume. In addition to his current post and his elected stints as attorney general and treasurer, he was a five-time Jeopardy! champion, an intern for John Glenn, a law clerk for Judge Robert Bork and U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, an Ohio State University law school professor, a state representative and Ohio Solicitor General.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said Wednesday, “We’re committed to an open primary process, and any candidate who wants to participate in our sanctioned debates and forums will need to go through the same vetting process that all other statewide candidates have gone through.”
In discussing Cordray, Jane Timken, chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party, brought out a label that echoes from last year’s presidential campaign.
“After misleading Congress and Ohioans about his intentions for months, Crooked Richard Cordray has quit his bureaucratic dream job, as head of a structurally unconstitutional and unaccountable government agency, to run for governor,” Timken said. “Ohio voters know a swamp creature when they see one, and just like Hillary, Crooked Cordray can’t be trusted.”
At a news conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who designed the bureau and recruited Cordray seven years ago to help set it up, vigorously defended him, saying “he has stayed for seven years and devoted his life to making this agency work on behalf of the American people. I feel nothing but gratitude to Rich.”
She added: “Rich has dedicated much of his life to protecting consumers and holding big companies accountable. Rich has a record he should be proud of.”
Washington Bureau staff writers Jack Torry and Jessica Wehrman contributed to this report.