Obama, by Someone Who Really Knows Him – March 04, 2008
Todd Spivak is a reporter who has known Obama since 2000 and watched his rise from obscure to Democratic Presidential hopeful and rock star in just eight years. His article is posted on the web site of the HoustonPress. He talks about being stuck in traffic on the Southwest Freeway in Houston and remembering when he first met Obama.
I did not write the following. I’m taking it from Spivak’s own account. I’ve shortened sentences, paraphrased when necessary, left out a whole lot and put in just enough so that you get the picture. It would be beneficial to read the entire article.
Some key moments are:
“During his seven year tenure in the Illinois Legislature, Obama wrote an occasional column for the Lakefront Outlook community newspaper where I worked. In 2004, during his U.S. Senate bid, I profiled Obama for the Illinois Times.” Todd Spivak
Spivak was a young struggling reporter and Obama was a rookie state senator making about $50,000 a year living in a small condo just two blocks away from Spivak.
When Obama is asked now about his legislative record he rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker. He expanded children’s health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects. And the list goes on – a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues.
But what’s interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year. During six of Obama’s seven year tenure in the Illinois Senate, it was controlled by Republicans. Each of those six years, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere. But in his seventh year, the Republican Majority Leader had been replaced with Emil Jones, Jr., a “gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor. Jones had served for three decades and represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama’s. He became Obama’s kingmaker.
Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman, and told him he was going to make Obama a U.S. Senator.” And he did. 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 (Spivak) at the time. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit”.
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 stunnning achievement that started him on the path of national politics – and he couldn’t have done it without Jones.
Jones further helped raise Obama’s profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news headlines.
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’ SENATE DISTRICT.
On the stump, Obama has frequently invoked his experiences as a community organizer on the Chicago South Side in the early 1990’s, when he passed on six figure salary offers at corporate law firms after graduating from Harvard Law School to direct a massive voter-registration drive. But as a state senator, Obama evaded leadership on a host of critical community issues, from historic preservation to the rapid demolition of nearby public-housing projects, according to many South Siders. Harold Lucas, a veteran South Side community organizer who remembers when Obama was “just a big-eared kid fresh out of school”, says he didn’t finally decide to support Obama’s presidential bid until he was actually inside the voting booth on Super Tuesday. “I’m not happy about the quality of life in my community,” says Lucas, who now heads a black-heritage tourism business in Chicago. “As a local elected official, he had a primary role in that.”
When the city seized by eminent domain, the 70-year-old Gerri’s Palm Tavern, a historic jazz club that regularly hosted Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Josephine Baker and many others, and forced the Checkerboard Lounge, regularly featuring B.B. King and the like, to re-locate, Obama was silent. Obama’s aloofness on key community issues for years frustrated Lucas and many other South Siders. They believe he was just afraid of making politcal enemies.
Obama inflamed many residents in his old state Senate district last March when he endorsed controversial Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman in a runoff election. She is best known for once pulling a pistol from her purse and brandishing it around at a city council meeting. Her ward comprised the city’s largest concentration of vacant lots. Just three months before Obama endorsed her, the Lakefront Outlook, a community newspaper ran a three-part investigative series exposing flagrant cronyism and possible tax law violations that centered on Tillman and her biggest pet project. Tillman lost the election despite Obama’s endorsement, which critics said countered his calls for clean government. He told the Chicago Tribune that he had backed Tillman because she was an early supporter of his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign.
This was not a wise decision. It was poor judgment on his part. He was operating like a politician trying to win the next step up.” says Timuel Black, a historian and City Colleges of Chicago professor emeritus who lived in Obama’s state Senate district. Obama has spent his entire political career trying to win the next step up. Every three years, he has aspired to a more powerful political position. Even many of his staunchist supporters, such as Black, still resent the strong-arm tactics Obama employed to win his seat in the Illinois Legislature.
Obama hired fellow Harvard Law alum and election law expert Thomas Johnson to challenge the nominating petitions of four other candidates. He found enough flaws to knock them all off and run unopposed. Of course, he won. “A close examination of Obama’s first campaign clouds the image he has cultivated throughout his political career,” wrote Tribune political reporters David Jackson and Ray Long.
Three years later, in September 1999, Obama was preparing for his first national campaign. He ran for U.S. Congress against the veteran incumbent Bobby Rush, a former co-founder of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. Rush won by more than 30 percentage points.
Three years later, January 2003, Obama ran for U.S. Senate and cruised to victory thanks to the self-desctruction of his top opponents in both the primary and general elections. The front-runner’s campaign in the primary imploded 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. The general election was a repeat performance. Obama’s opponent, Jack Ryan dropped out after a judge ordered that his divorce files be unsealed. Obama spent several weeks running unopposed while Republicans tried to find a new candidate. They finally put up Alan Keyes, whose bombastic rhetoric wasn’t popular. Obama won.
“He’s been given a pass,” says Harold Lucas. “His career has been such a meteoric rise that he has not had the time to set a record.”
A week after my (Spivak) profile of Obama was published, I called some of my contacts in the Illinois Legislature. I ran through a list of black Chicago lawmakers who had worked with Obama, and was surprised to learn that many resented him and had supported other candidates in the U.S. Senate election. “Anybody but Obama”, the late state Rep. Lovana Jones told me at the time. State Rep. Monique Davis attended the same church as Obama and co-sponsored several bills with him, also did not support him. “I was snubbed,” Davis told me. “I felt he was shutting me out of history.”
In a follow-up report published a couple of weeks later, I wrote about these disgruntled black legislators and the central role Senate President Emil Jones, Jr. played in Obama’s revived political life. The morning after the story was posted online, I arrived early at my offices. I hadn’t taken my coat off when the phone rang. It was Obama.
(This conversation you must read for yourself on page 5, the final page of the article.) In a nutshell, Obama wasn’t happy.
If this reporter is telling the truth, then we get a new picture of the real Barak Obama. If he isn’t telling the truth, he will be found out because he names many people who could refute this story.
Just thought you ought to know about this new rock star.