Protests and Hecklers Have Mortgage Bankers Longing for Good Old Days

SAN FRANCISCO — It was just another business-as-usual day at the annual convention of the nation’s mortgage bankers: a few panels, a few presentations and an attempted abduction of Karl Rove.

Mr. Rove, the Republican strategist and former adviser to President Bush, was accosted onstage during a convention panel here on Tuesday morning by a protester who tried to handcuff and arrest him “for treason.” Mr. Rove tried to elbow her away before she was taken offstage.
No one was injured and no arrests were made, but the stage-storming was just the latest outburst at an event that usually packs all the excitement of a mortgage calculator. On Monday, another panel was interrupted by protesters demanding a moratorium on foreclosures, and hecklers screamed at attendees through bullhorns outside.
The convention was booked for San Francisco well before the national mortgage meltdown, the $700 billion bailout and all the recriminations between. But the rancor of the protests and the general malaise in the mortgage business has left more than a few conventioneers, like Gregory B. Lucas, a mortgage broker from Pomona, Calif., fondly remembering the good old days of the industry’s gatherings.
“We had streakers during the 1990s, but that was a joyful, happy thing,” said Mr. Lucas, who had been coming to such events for 20 years and recalled how a group of inebriated and naked bankers had once entertained the crowd. “But now everyone is blaming us for everything.”
Cheryl Crispen, a spokeswoman for the Mortgage Bankers Association, the convention’s organizer, said she had no regrets about coming to San Francisco, a liberal city where anger about the Bush administration’s financial policies is palpable.
“It was unfortunate that they chose this venue to protest whatever they chose to protest,” Ms. Crispen said. “We believe in free speech, but we believe there is a right time and place for it.”
With about 2,500 attendees, the convention’s attendance was down by about 20 percent this year, Ms. Crispen said, something that “mirrors what is going on the industry.” That new reality could also be reflected in some of the forums being offered, with names like “Eliminating Foreclosure” and “High Speed Legislation: How Congress Is Responding to the Mortgage Industry.”
Not that there weren’t optimists in the crowd. Lalit Maliwal, a salesman from Belle Mead, N.J., said the current economic travails were actually good for his line of work: outsourcing.
“Everyone is hurting,” Mr. Maliwal said. “But I think it seems a little harder than it is.”
Nor were all the conventioneers cutting corners. The comedian Jay Leno and a group of Beatles impersonators were scheduled to perform for the association on Tuesday night — for $1,990 a table.
Mr. Rove was already on a flight to Washington on Tuesday afternoon, according to his office, and could not be reached for comment. But Mr. Lucas, for one, said the networking at the event’s official watering hole at the nearby Marriott hotel was nowhere near as active as the protesting outside the convention hall.
“I’ve cut a lot of deals in those bars,” Mr. Lucas said, chomping on a cigar. “And there wasn’t anybody there last night.”