What’s worse: Cheating on your cancer-stricken wife or using poor children as an election year prop? Hard to say. Stiffing Katrina survivors is pretty vile, too, but that’s a minor infraction compared to John Edwards’ other sins.
One week before confirming the affair, he pulled the plug on College for Everyone, a program he started in 2005 at Greene Central High School in Snow Hill, N.C., which paid the first-year college tuition of any graduate who stayed out of trouble and worked 10 hours per week, at a total cost of about $300,000 per year. Edwards touted the program often on the campaign trail, calling it the first step toward a nationwide financial aid initiative.
But Assistant Superintendent Patricia McNeill said many had been bracing for the program’s end once Edwards dropped out of the presidential contest. “Our children today are very astute and they are cognizant of what goes on in the political world,” she said.
Among those who were taken by surprise was Lavania Edwards (no relation), a pre-kindergarten teacher who is still looking for help to cover the college costs of her son Malik, who graduated from high school last week. “We were really planning on that helping,” she said. “I was disappointed and I wondered what happened in that they couldn’t continue with the program — or why no one came out to us with a definite answer.”
Edwards said he had to pull the plug because campaign supporters were less likely to give money to the program once he was out of the race. “But it served its purpose,” he said. “A lot of kids benefited.”
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, residents who had been foreclosed on after Hurricane Katrina by subprime lenders owned by Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund that Edwards worked for and invested with, have not received the special assistance that Edwards promised after their troubles were reported by The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in 2007.
Edwards is worth an estimated $30 million, though his soul can be had for pennies. He even used the death of his young son to help secure his spot on the Democratic ticket in 2004.
Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he’d never told anyone else—that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he’d do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade’s ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the same exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before—and with the same preface, that he’d never shared the memory with anyone else.