Very early on the morning that Senator Biden flew to the nation of Georgia as the Russian-Georgian war was cooling down, I received a phone call from a labor activist friend of mine from the Eastern Region of the Laborers (LIUNA) union. The caller was Brian McGlinchey. He asked me if I could get in touch with a certain Laborers Local 199 member who was facing foreclosure and was trying to support a family of ten (now eleven as a new son was born two weeks ago). McGlinchey explained that the Senator Biden personally wanted to discuss the difficulty facing this working family to see if he could be of assistance.
I immediately called the wife of James Yetman, the union construction worker whose family was facing the loss of their home, at their house. She explained that James was already on the job. She gave me his cell phone number. As I fired up my coffee pot and started dialing James Yetman, I looked at my clock. It was 6:45am. I thought to myself, “How can a working man already on the job at this hour be facing foreclosure?”
I already knew the answer. James had a wife who was unable to work because of a uncurable serious chronic health condition and because she was nearly 8 months pregnant. She had 5 children from a previous marriage when she married James. They had 3 more together (not counting the one on the way at that time). James had been out of work for an extended length of time during the winter. Fuel, food, medical, insurance and heating expenses had exploded during the past year. They were being squeezed from every direction.
They had been victims of a mortgage that I had viewed as predatory when I examined it. It was certainly more than they could afford on their income. They had not had many options other than agreeing to the lenders terms since it is almost impossible to find landlords willing to rent to such a large family. Section 8 housing had been severely underfunded by the Bush White House and their Republican allies in Congress. They were going to get no help from the Bush Administration. Maybe, just maybe, Biden might be able to help.
I managed to get James on the phone as I sipped on my first cup of coffee. I had great difficulty getting him to agree to meet Senator Biden. James did not want to miss the hours of work. He needed the money. This was before Senator Biden had been selected as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. James finally relented when I told him that Biden was on a banking committee in the US Senate and was his best chance of keeping his home.
James checked with his boss and called me back after getting approval to leave for the meeting with Biden. I picked him up from his job site in Newark, Delaware. We drove to Wilmington, Delaware to meet Biden at Angelo’s Luncheonette. We arrived a little early.
Angelo’s is a really small, working class neighborhood establishment with excellent and inexpensive food. I was surprised that the Senator would pick a place like this to meet. It had no reporters hanging around nor the usual political crowd that frequent the kind of public places where I had normally met other political figures in the past. I liked it immediately.
I had ordered lunch for James and myself when three of the leaders of Laborers Local 199 walked in the door. They were Business Manager William Carter, Vice President James Maravelias and Business Agent Toby Lamb. They explained that they were there to show their support for the union member facing foreclosure.
They were very concerned about the plight of the family. I understood their position. Non-union members often do not understand that members of the union movement really do consider each other as members of the same union “family.” We call each other brothers and sisters. The really active members and the leaders really mean it!
We were all finishing our lunch together when Biden arrived. He had his sister Valerie with him and several staff members. I was really surprised that no press were in attendance although one of the staffers had a camera. We persuaded the staffer to take some photos. I am really glad they did since many friends of the Yetman family refused to believe the story about the meeting without the photos.
There were maybe another ten customers and workers in Angelo’s Luncheonette besides the five of us from labor. Biden gave everyone considerable personal time and attention before talking to us. Everyone wanted their photo taken with Biden. Most had personal stories to share or previous personal meetings to discuss with the Senator. It was easy to see that Biden was at home in this middle class and working class neighborhood. He was one of them who had made good and not forgotten them.
Eventually, Biden made it to the back of the establishment where we were sitting. He remembered the local union leaders and talked with them briefly. They introduced James Yetman to Senator Biden. James was visibly nervious at first but the Senator quickly put him at ease. Soon they were deeply involved in conversation.
You could see the deep concern on Biden’s face as Yetman started giving the Senator the details of the problem. I did not hear much of the conversation except when Biden exclaimed at one point “nine children!” and when he called to his staff for a pen and paper to take notes.
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A few minutes longer into the conversation, I saw Biden get out his cell phone to start making calls on behalf of the Yetman family. I was shocked. I have been a political activist for nearly 40 years and had never seen a sitting US Senator make calls on behalf of a voter immediately at any meeting or event. His cell phone could not get a signal so Biden called for his staff to get him one that worked in Angelo’s. They passed him one and he started making calls on the spot.
Later, I learned that Biden knew the Yetman’s currently lived in Oxford, Pennsylvania and could not even vote for the Senator in Delaware. James Yetman had once been a Delaware resident but now voted in Pennsylvania. Remember this meeting happened before Biden was selected by Obama as the Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. Biden was doing the right thing for this working family even when there were no votes to be gained or reporters present. He was just being Biden.
As we were leaving Angelo’s Luncheonette, Biden noticed my union pins. I was wearing my UAW, USW, OPEIU and Delaware AFL-CIO ones. Biden told me how much he appreciated the support the workers of Delaware have given him over his career.
The last person Biden spoke with was James Yetman. He called James by name. Biden promised him that he would continue looking into his mortgage foreclosure problem. The last thing I heard Biden say was “you have my word.”
As I was driving James Yetman back to his job site, his cell phone rang. It was the first of many calls from Washington, D.C. and Biden’s Delaware Senate office. Every few days, Biden’s Senate office called or wrote the Yetman family. The contacts continue to this day. The Yetman’s have even received calls from the Biden family about their foreclosure problem. Biden has certainly kept his word.
The Yetman family is still facing foreclosure. This family may yet be out on the streets if their mortgage company will not cooperate. It will not be because Senator Joe Biden did not intervene on their behalf. It will not be because Biden does not care.
Biden is a real friend of working families even when there is absolutely nothing in it for him politically. Biden truly cares and truly understands working Americans. We need him as a leading voice in the Executive Branch of the federal government. We need him as Vice President. If he had been setting government policies and priorities in the White House during the past 8 years, millions of working families might not be facing foreclosure today.