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Bank of America shareholders push Lewis out of chairman's role

Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis lost his seat as chairman of the bank's board Wednesday in a close shareholder vote with a margin of less than 1 percent. WFAE's Julie Rose reports. Ken Lewis is still the CEO of Bank of America, but the board of directors has a new chairman. Critics have long claimed Lewis had too much power holding both positions. Analyst Gary Townsend says the shareholder vote won't change the bank's direction overnight. But he says it is worrisome for Ken Lewis. "I think the entire company is certainly chastened with the example of Wachovia last year," notes Townsend. "You'll recall that Ken Thompson lost his chairmanship and became President and CEO for all of about 3 months." The vote culminated several weeks of vocal criticism by dissident shareholders. The annual meeting drew an unusually large crowd of more than 2-thousand people, and grew testy, at times. Judy Koenick grilled Lewis about the bank's acquisition of Merrill Lynch. "You knew what was going on at Merrill Lynch," said Koenick. "You kept it from us. You're still keeping it from us. I find it incredible that you didn't have the guts to stand up to the U.S. government." Lewis was visibly uncomfortable in responding. "We have um, it's been made public that um, we in fact made our decision independent of the threat of the government," said Lewis. "That was not the deciding factor. Lewis also defended the Merrill Lynch acquisition and said that it - along with Countrywide - will be crucial to the bank's future success. "These acquisitions were not mistakes to be regretted," said Lewis. "Both are looking more and more like successes to be celebrated." After the shareholder vote yesterday, Bank of America's board of directors expressed unanimous support for Ken Lewis to continue as President and CEO. Long-time board member Walter E. Massey will take over as chairman. Related stories: Lewis supporters fail to mask anger of shareholders Julie Rose, Mark Rumsey discussion on shareholders' vote BofA shareholder votes still pending (4:30 p.m. on 04/29/09) Live blog of shareholders meeting: BofA Judgment Day