EAST ORANGE, NJ – In the wake of Wells Fargo’s fake account scandal, the bank’s investment in the North Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as Wells Fargo’s close ties to the Trump administration and efforts to de-regulate banking, a growing movement of cities, counties and states across the country are weighing community concerns and drafting resolutions and ordinances to divest and move public money out of Wells Fargo. Portland, Chicago, San Francisco, New York City, and even the State of Maryland are among the municipalities floating the concept. But on February 8th, Seattle became the first city in the country to officially move forward, divesting a total of $3 billion from the bank.
And late on February 14th, the City of East Orange, NJ followed suit, becoming the first municipality in New Jersey to pass a resolution calling for full divestment from Wells Fargo. The resolution was considered and approved last night following a unanimous City Council vote.
“We’ve taken an important step today that should send a strong message, not just to Wells Fargo, but to all financial institutions, as well as the current administration in the White House,” said East Orange Councilman Chris James, who championed the resolution. “We will not allow you to commit economic crimes against our communities – against the Black and Brown families that call East Orange home – and still enjoy the privilege of doing business with us.”
“Last year East Orange joined other cities across the country and called for changes to Federal housing policy to prioritize the bulk sale of delinquent mortgage pools to non-profit housing agencies as opposed to Wall Street speculators,” said East Orange Council President Ted Green. “This vote re-affirms our commitment to hold Wall Street accountable and our commitment stand up and fight for our residents who have suffered at the hands of Wells Fargo and other big banks engaged in questionable and morally bankrupt behavior.”
Wells Fargo remains one of the top foreclosing banks in New Jersey, and is currently the plaintiff in nearly 300 open foreclosure actions against homeowners in Essex County. In East Orange, Wells Fargo is the plaintiff in 33 foreclosure filings – making Wells Fargo the top foreclosing entity in all of East Orange.
“In a time when urban communities are still recovering from predatory lending practices and high foreclosure rates, it is imperative that local leaders take a stand against corporate giants who focus on profit margins at the expense of people’s lives,” said Mayor Lester E. Taylor III. “I applaud the efforts of Councilman Chris James, who with the support of his colleagues on the East Orange City Council, consistently sponsors pro-active legislation in support of our hard-working families.”
Community activists are celebrating the decision by East Orange leaders, and point to a growing movement of other municipalities across the country considering similar divestment actions.
“East Orange is not the only community in the country targeted by Wells Fargo and intentionally sold toxic financial products,” says Trina Scordo, executive director of NJ Communities United, a statewide grassroots organizing group. “In fact, Wells Fargo’s drive for profit was the reason they sold the toxic bond swaps to municipalities. It’s the reason they fund charter school expansion and the dismantling of public schools. It’s the reason they aren’t concerned with sacred burial grounds or the sovereign rights of indigenous communities. It’s the reason they support stop and frisk policies while investing in private prisons. It’s the reason they support attacks on immigrant communities while investing in private immigration detention centers. If you can find a way to destabilize a community and make a profit doing it, then you will find a Wells Fargo executive has already tried to do it.”