Raines Isn't Talking About

What People Want to Know

It's been a busy month for Fannie Mae's chairman and chief executive, Franklin D. Raines.

The huge mortgage investing company he heads has been accused of using improper accounting to get good financial results. There are criminal and SEC investigations and Raines has testified to Congress.

In happier news, Washington landed a Major League Baseball team, and the ownership group Raines helped form is a front-runner to buy it, but it now has to win what could be an intense bidding war.

Despite all that, Raines kept an appointment to speak Tuesday night at the Economic Club of Washington D.C., a group of local business heavyweights -- though he wasn't eager to talk about either matter. People expecting Raines to hold forth on Fannie Mae's problems or baseball were disappointed, as he made only an oblique reference to the two things that make him news.

"I have to say that I did a count on coming in," Raines said. "I looked at all the name tags and the various firms that the members are affiliated with. And I determined that this is the group that has the fewest percentage of lawyers in it of any group I've dealt with in the last three or four weeks."

Raines mainly discussed the need for more affordable housing and smart growth in the region. Vernon Jordan, the Economic Club president and Raines's friend, picked only three written questions, all of them about housing, from the dozens that attendees passed forward. Raines said he sees few signs of a national housing bubble, but that there is evidence of one in certain markets, mainly California and New England, where no-money-down and interest-only mortgages are widespread and buyers of houses expect to profit by flipping them a few months later.

Presumably in the thick bundle of questions were some tough ones about more sensitive matters. But only the two men know for sure: As a parting gift, Jordan gave Raines the stack of questions.

-- Neil Irwin

Franklin D. Raines