Robert H. McKinney, the Indianapolis laywer business/S&L chairman who is President Carter's controversial choice to chair the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB), was protrayed yesterday by his critics as a man of outstanding ability but narrow vision.
McKinney's nomination has become a lightning rod for a long list of labor and political action groups determined to reform savings and loan associations - an industry which, the critics say, has been insensitive to the special financial needs of cities and minorities. The FHLBB regulates thrift institutions.
One after the other, for four uninterrupted hours, leaders of the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, the NAACP and the Consumer Federation of American urged the Senate Banking Committee to reject McKinney because of his record, while successful, lacks evidence of sensitivity or compassion for America's inner cities and the people who live there.
"There is a lack of consumerism in his record," said David Cohen, president of Common Cause.
McKinney has been part of a lot of things. He is chairman of First Federal Savings and Loan of Indianapolis. He is a senior partner in a law firm that represents First Federal and several other financial institutions. And he owns stock in and is chairman of Jefferson Corporation which sells insurance and construction materials.
His interlocking relationships have left McKinney open to charges of potential conflicts of interest. The lending record of his S&L has sparked allegations, repeated yesterday, that he has ignored Indianapolis' black and low-income neighborhoods.
At least half the members of the Senate committee have indicated they are still undecided about the nomination.
While applauding Mckinney's successes in Indianapolis, the senators seem to be wrestling mainly with whether he has the broadness of mind to make the leap to a federal regulatory agency that must take a national perspective.
"We're not hiring him to chair an S&L," said committee chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.), who is tilting against McKinney. "We're hiring him to regulate S&L's, which is quite different."
But Sen. Thomas McIntyre (D-N.H.), who is leaning in favor of the nomination, said he is irritated by critics who first fault the savings and loan industry for not doing enough for urban housing in the past, and then criticize McKinney who has proven himself able and aggressive.
"He's a can-do-kind of a guy," McIntyre said. "He's been a credit to everything he's touched."
This brought a sharp rebuke from Clarence Mitchell, director of the National Associationf for the Advancement of Colored People, who noted that success is not enough.
"It is not in the interests of the people that a person is successful in everything he touches," said the black leader. "If that were the case, this national would be a jungle. Success must be leavened by compassion."
McKinney's opponents said they did not object in principle to someone from the S&L industry being named to the top regulatory post. But they insisted that the nominee be a consumer activist.
In other testimony yesterday, McKinney received glowing endorsements from two prominent Indianapolis blacks - Indiana State Senator Julia Carson and Dr. Frank P. Lloyd. Lloyd is a man with almost as many interlocking relationships as McKinney's, including the chairmanship of the Midwest National Bank of Indianapolis.