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Originally published July 20, 2010 at 4:51 PM | Page modified July 20, 2010 at 7:01 PM

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Kimmelman top choice as Obama's consumer protection chief

Longtime consumer advocate and Justice Department lawyer Eugene Kimmelman is President Obama's best candidate to lead a new consumer-protection bureau.

GETTING President Obama's financial reforms up and running will prove as daunting a task as getting the oversight measures through Congress. None will be more contentious than the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Three strong, credible choices are mentioned to lead the powerful new agency, but longtime consumer advocate and knowledgeable Capitol Hill veteran Eugene Kimmelman is the preferred choice.

He was vice president of federal and international affairs at the Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, before he joined the administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the antitrust division of the Justice Department.

Obama's eventual nominee first must be approved by the Senate. Then the top job requires a combination of tenacity, purpose and finesse to deal with Congress and navigate the reefs and shoals of Treasury Department oversight.

The bureau is invested with power and independence that sends chills down the spines of predatory lenders, but bureau recommendations are also subject to veto by a senior Treasury panel, the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

The potential for conflict between Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law professor who proposed creation of the bureau, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has drawn early attention, though she is favored by many for the post.

The third candidate on the so-called shortlist is Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael S. Barr.

The bureau holds the promise of tough federal scrutiny and challenge of the most grievous financial practices heaped on American consumers. The economic downturn is global in proportion, but some of the most pernicious abuses touched U.S. families through their mortgages, credit cards, private student loans, payday loans and debt collection.

Borrowers are not absolved from the responsible use of credit, but they deserve to know all the details. Transparency — legal requirement for full disclosure — is among the fundamental goals of the legislation the president will sign into law.

Kimmelman has looked out for consumers for years, challenging mergers and monopolies in telecommunications and sounding alarms about concentrations of economic power. He is a pragmatist, with the capacity to produce results and get constructive, productive things done.

He is a solid, ethical choice to guide the establishment of an agency whose potential to shape American consumer life is compared with the formation of the Federal Trade Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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