Minneapolis James A. Johnson, a former Democratic campaigner who was executive director of housing lender Fannie Mae in the 1990s and served as chair of Walter Mondale’s presidential bid, went on Sunday at his home in Washington. He was 76 years old.
Johnson’s son, Alfred, confirmed that his father had passed away, saying Washington Post The Wall Street Journal stated that the cause was complications from a nervous condition.
Born of Benson, Minnesota, the son of a prominent state lawmaker, Johnson had a political, cultural, and business biography that prompted Harold M. Ickes, President Bill Clinton’s deputy chief of staff, to be called “President of the Universe.” Johnson presided over the John F. Kennedy Performing Arts, Brookings Research Foundation, and Fannie Mae at the same time.
Aside from managing the failed Mondale White House march against Ronald Reagan in 1984, Johnson has been a major player in the presidential campaigns of Eugene McCarthy, Edmund Muskie, and George McGovern.
He turned his political intelligence into a commercial success. David O. Maxwell, the former chairman of Fannie Mae, appointed Johnson as vice chairman in 1990, after Johnson helped the company halt privatization efforts by the Reagan administration. Johnson was promoted to the following board chairman and chief executive officer.
Johnson immediately set his sights on keeping the lucrative government franchises for Fannie Mae and making sure the new regulations weren’t too onerous. Johnson and his lobbyists helped craft a 1992 law signed by President George HW Bush that aims to reduce the chance of bailing out exorbitant taxpayers if Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have bad loans on their books.
It also opened a new era of home ownership for families who were previously unable to obtain mortgage loans.
After retiring from Fannie Mae at the end of 1998, Johnson served on the boards of several companies, including UnitedHealth Group, KB Home and Target, and was vice chairman of the board of directors of Perseus, a private equity firm in Washington. He has chaired the advisory board of the Stanford Center for Longevity since 2011.
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