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Did Obama Avoid Chicago-Style Corruption?

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Obama says he avoided city, state corruption

June 25, 2008

BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Political Reporter/apallasch@suntimes.com

Clout and corruption scandals that have plagued Chicago and Illinois politics in recent years have not laid a glove on Barack Obama, he told reporters here Wednesday.

"You will recall that for my entire political career here, I was not the the endorsed candidate of any political organization here," the Democratic presidential hopeful said at the Westin Hotel downtown. "I didn’t go around wielding a bunch of clout. My reputation in Springfield was as an independent. There is no doubt I had friends and continue to have friends who come out of the more traditional school of Chicago politics but that’s not what launched my political career and that’s not what I’ve ever depended on to get elected, and I would challenge any Chicago reporter to dispute that basic fact."

Obama friend Tony Rezko was convicted of corrupting state government, but Obama was never implicated and has returned contributions Rezko made to his Senate campaign. Obama did run as an independent Democrat but worked closely with state Senate President Emil Jones, an old-school organization Democrat. Obama runs for president with the full blessing of Mayor Daley…

Mr. Obama’s claims stand in sharp contrast to the firsthand account from a reporter who covered his early career in the Illinois State house.

Mr. Spivak’s experiences were chronicled in a Houston Press article we posted back in March:

Barack Obama and Me

By Todd Spivak
Published: February 28, 2008

But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.

Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama’s seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative ­achievements [sic].

Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor’s office as well as both legislative chambers.

The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James “Pate” Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city’s most popular black call-in radio ­program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

“He said, ‘Cliff, I’m gonna make me a U.S. Senator.’”

“Oh, you are? Who might that be?”

“Barack Obama.”

Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

“I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen,” State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

“I don’t consider it bill jacking,” Hendon told me. “But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book.”

During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama’s stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.

It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn’t have done it without Jones.

Before Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was virtually unknown even in his own state. Polls showed fewer than 20 percent of Illinois voters had ever heard of Barack Obama.

Jones further helped raise Obama’s profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news ­headlines.

For instance. Obama sponsored a bill banning the use of the diet supplement ephedra, which killed a Northwestern University football player, and another one preventing the use of pepper spray or pyrotechnics in nightclubs in the wake of the deaths of 21 people during a stampede at a Chicago nightclub. Both stories had received national attention and extensive local coverage…

So how has Obama repaid Jones?

Last June, to prove his commitment to government transparency, Obama released a comprehensive list of his earmark requests for fiscal year 2008. It comprised more than $300 million in pet projects for Illinois, including tens of millions for Jones’s Senate district.

Shortly after Jones became Senate president, I remember asking his view on pork-barrel spending.

I’ll never forget what he said:

“Some call it pork; I call it steak.” …

And there is a lot more similar information in Mr. Spivak’s report. Such as Mr. Obama’s strange habit of winning elections by publishing the divorce records of his opponents:

Three years later, in January 2003, Obama announced his bid for the U.S. Senate, where he cruised to victory thanks to the self-destruction of his top opponents in both the primary and general elections.

Obama joined a crowded field of seven candidates vying to fill an open Senate seat being vacated by retiring two-term incumbent Peter Fitzgerald. For months, he polled in the middle-of-the-pack behind frontrunner and former securities trader Blair Hull, who spent $30 million of his own fortune on the primary.

But Hull’s campaign imploded just weeks before the election when his divorce files were unsealed, revealing an ex-wife’s charges of verbal and physical abuse.

Obama unleashed a barrage of television ads just before the election, when the other candidates had largely depleted their war chests. He won the nomination with 53 percent of the vote.

In the general election, Obama squared off against another multimillionaire: Jack Ryan, who later dropped out of the race after a judge ordered his divorce files unsealed. The documents revealed that Ryan’s ex-wife, actress Jeri Ryan, a former Miss Illinois best known for her role as Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, accused him of trying to coerce her to perform sex acts in public…

Three years later, in February 2007, Obama announced his bid for the White House in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield, where Abraham Lincoln had made his famous House Divided speech.

But maybe this isn’t the record of events Mr. Obama thought he knew. For as he says:

There is no doubt I had friends and continue to have friends who come out of the more traditional school of Chicago politics but that’s not what launched my political career and that’s not what I’ve ever depended on to get elected…

Testify!

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, June 26th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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