Editor's note: This is the first in an ongoing series about Democratic candidate Babur Lateef and his campaign for Prince William County chairman. Lateef and Independent John Gray are challenging incumbent Corey Stewart.
About six months after county chairman candidate Babur Lateef saw his $1.2 million estate in Manassas auctioned off in a foreclosure, he started pumping thousands of dollars into his campaign.
Lateef, the Democratic challenger for the county chairman post, said that his business, Advanced Ophthalmology, was in hardship because of the economy and that he didn't have much choice but to lose the home. He said he was mostly getting patients for only eye exams and the number of people who came in for more expensive care, such as Lasik surgery, dropped.
Yet, less than a year after the home was auctioned in April 2010, Advanced Ophthamology became Lateef's top donor at $10,533. Lateef also loaned $10,000 of his own money for his campaign since the foreclosure.
But Lateef didn't lose his home.
A year before the foreclosure, Lateef's wife, Tarannum, had her named removed from the deed of the $1.2 million family estate.
Najia Shakoor, who is Lateef's sister-in-law and a doctor at Rush University in Chicago, bought the house for $612,000, half of what Lateef bought it for in June 2006. She paid in cash. Shakoor now rents the home on Chaddsford Terrace to Lateef, 39, his wife, who also is a physician, and their four children. Shakoor did not return phone calls Wednesday or Thursday to comment.
Lateef also owns his business office, his wife's doctor's office and another home on Monument Avenue in Belmont Bay that he bought in June 2002 for $314,000 that he uses as a rental property.
"During the recession, there were times I couldn’t rent [the Monument Avenue house]," Lateef said. "There were months where I was eating the mortgage on both of the houses. I couldn’t keep up with the payments."
Lateef said he is blessed that he has a family that stepped up to help him out of a sticky situation. He said he was trying to work with the bank on a plan to keep his house but the foreclosure continued on anyway and he went with a decision that affected the least number of people.
"I never let go of any of my employees, never furloughed anyone and I never cut any hours," he said. "I maintained my staffing at the expense of doing what I had to."
Lateef said he was able to loan his campaign money and his business chipped in because his business finances are improving.
In a review of all three candidates' land records, only Lateef's show financial troubles. The Washington Post was first to mention Lateef's foreclosure in a blog post about Lateef's announcement that he would be releasing his platform.
People, including incumbent County Chairman Corey Stewart and independent challenger John Gray, are still questioning how a family of doctors could lose a home to foreclosure, while owning more than $1 million in local commercial and residential property and still holding jobs.
Gray, a CPA for more than 30 years, said what Lateef did is called a "strategic default," a legal way of walking away from a mortgage—but Gray stressed that it's not very ethical.
"I find it incredibly hard to believe that two doctors' medical practices were so devestated by the recession that they had to default on their home," Gray said. "Until he can provide his tax returns, I don't believe it for a second."
Lateef declined to release his tax returns, saying he was not sure the documents will show why he decided to foreclose on his home.
"Things are getting better. What I went through was extremely painful and I have worked my tail off to make things better than it was," he said.
Lateef's campaign has been active early by sending out press releases criticizing Stewart and challenging him on news articles about Stewart considering a run for U.S. Senate.
Lateef said he does not think this campaign should be about his financial woes last year, and he criticized Stewart for making accusations about someone "he has never met or ever spoke with" and for attacking a political newcomer. He said the foreclosure and the business troubles make him a better candidate because he can understand and sympathize with county residents who continue to struggle.
"Ask [Stewart] to stand on his own record. There is nothing to stand on," Lateef said. "The election really isn’t about me or my own personal problems. It is about what the taxpayer deserves and what the hurting county residents need right now."
Gray said Lateef's suspicious foreclosure is a campaign issue and that he should prove that his reasons are true by releasing his tax records.
"He thinks this qualifies him to be the financial leader of the county?" Gray said.
Stewart has been touting his record as county chairman, and his efforts to combat illegal immigration in Prince William County, but they are accomplishments that Lateef isn't fond of at all.
"He’s already shown that he has poor financial judgment," Stewart said about Lateef. "I think, frankly, his campaign is over. Obviously if you can’t manage your own finances you can’t manage the county’s finances."
A piece of Lateef's platform is that he would like to see the Virginia Foreclosure Law changed to expand the 14-day window in which a bank must notify a borrower of a foreclosure sale to 45 days. Lateef said he didn't have enough time to work out a plan to keep his house with the banks before he was notified of the foreclosure sale.
Stewart said he doesn't feel sorry for Lateef. "There are people out there who are hurting and are unable to make their payments," he said. "I feel sorry for them."
"There is no county policy regarding banks and foreclosure," Stewart said. "This is his problem: He doesn’t understand how the county works. Mortgages and foreclosures are regulated by the federal government. There is very little the county can do other than educate residents on what they can do to manage their finances. We work with Virgina Cooperative Extension in a program to help prevent foreclosure. At the end of the day, his platform is irrelevant."
Lateef said overspending has nothing to do with his foreclosure and he doesn't want to see his past personal financial troubles overshadow the real issues in Prince William County, such as improving education, increasing job growth and finishing key road projects. Lateef said he would bring new, young leadership to the county board and rebuild the county's image that Stewart has damaged for mostly ignoring the important topics until an election year so he can make as many national headlines as possible with hyperbolic messages about illegal immigration.
"Do you want a leader who in a rough time is going to be able to make the choices that are best for the vast majority of people or someone who promotes things detrimental to the entire county?" Lateef said.
Editor's note: The final part of this series will present each candidate's background and platforms.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly had the locality in which Babur Lateef's townhouse is located. Babur Lateef owns his office and his wife's office. A previous version of this article was not clear on what he owned.