Is Richard Cordray the New Elizabeth Warren?

A look at the CFPB director whose confirmation Republicans threaten to block.

ByABC News
August 16, 2011, 2:25 PM

Sept. 6, 2011 -- Richard Cordray started impressing people in politics when he was still a teenager. It was 1978, and Cordray was just another off-the-street volunteer for Dick Celeste's first campaign for governor of Ohio. The campaign office was a perpetually busy hub packed with young, bright people working on behalf of the Democratic hopeful. Cordray was a tall, reedy young man whose open smile and floppy blond hair made him look even younger than his 19 years.

But unlike most young volunteers, who spend lots of time flirting and socializing, Cordray, now nominated to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, simply put his head down and worked, remembers Greg Haas, who was a staff member on the campaign.

[Related Article: Warren Praises CFPB as Senate Preps for Battle]

"You get hundreds of volunteers coming through a campaign office, and for any one of them to really stand out the way Rich did is pretty unusual," Haas says. "He just immediately caught your eye as a nice guy who was very smart and had everything going for him."

Years later, Haas served as Cordray's media advisor when Cordray ran for county and statewide offices. The two were friendly, Haas says, but not close. Haas's mother died in 2005. At the funeral home, Haas turned around to see Cordray sitting in the back row.

"We hadn't worked together for years," Haas says. "It was not a campaign stop, and there wasn't any percentage in it. He just spent three hours in a car to be at my mom's funeral because that's the kind of person he is."

Outside Ohio, few people have heard of Richard Cordray. His biggest step onto the national stage came in July, when President Obama nominated Cordray to become the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new watchdog agency created to protect consumers from fraud and abuse by financial services companies. Cordray currently serves as director of the bureau's enforcement division.

Cordray makes his first appearance before the Senate Banking Committee on Sept. 6. Many expect it will be a testy start to a long, nasty and potentially doomed confirmation process, since Republicans in the Senate have signaled they will oppose anyone President Obama nominates for the job.

Obama did his best to blunt some of that opposition at the press conference in the Rose Garden where he introduced Cordray as his nominee.

"I should also point out that he took this job—which meant being away from his wife and 12-year-old twins back in Ohio—because he believed so deeply in the mission of the bureau," Obama said at a press conference in the Rose Garden, where he introduced Cordray as his nominee.

Cordray's nomination is widely viewed as an attempt at compromise. At first, President Obama tapped Elizabeth Warren, a former Harvard law professor, to create the bureau. Warren was the first person to suggest that a new watchdog agency might be needed to protect consumers and the economy from fraud committed by financial service companies, a stance that won her the approval—and admiration—of many consumer advocates and Democratic Party activists.

But Warren could also be strident, as when she said in a Wall Street Journal editorial in 2010 that "Wall Street CEOs have thrown away customer trust like so much worthless trash."