Saturday, March 15, 2008



The Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times reported this morning that, uh-oh, it looks like Barack Obama took more campaign money from Tony Rezko than Obama’s staff had thought, perhaps up to $250,000 during Obama’s meteoric rise to the precipice of the presidency. Oh, well, that bookkeeping stuff can be very complicated, especially when you want it to be.

More telling is the Tribune headline this morning: “Obama: I trusted Rezko.” This, of course, leads to questions regarding young Mr. Obama’s judgment: Who else has he, or will he, naively trust?

One must add these revelations and questions to doubts involving Senator Obama’s purchase of his mansion in Kenwood/Hyde Park. It is now, if not clear, logical and understandable to infer, that all or some of the following took place:

--Tony Rezko helped Barack Obama buy his dream house, and not just a little bit. Obama got a multi-hundred thousand dollar discount on the house, Rezko paid full price for the adjoining lot. The transactions closed on the same day, and Rezko’s interest in the adjoining property only developed days before the closing, roughly coinciding with the day he and the Senator took a look at the house the Senator wanted to buy. This all could be above board, I’m sure, but I wasn’t born yesterday, and neither were you.

--Tony Rezko helped Barack Obama buy a bigger lot than that on which his dream house sat. Rezko purchased the adjoining property, at full price, and then sold Barack Obama a portion of it to expand the Senator’s yard. This was done either to somehow legitimize the transaction (since the sale was made at roughly the price Rezko paid for the property) or in order to make possible for the Senator the purchase of a relatively small parcel another buyer for the adjoining lot might not be willing to sell.

--If Tony Rezko didn’t get into trouble (and he was already, at the time of this deal, “toxic,” as the papers put it) and have to dispose of the property adjoining Obama’s, he would have had a convenient cudgel to hold over young Mr. Obama’s head, to wit: “Say, Senator, I’d really like your help with this particular (contract, piece of legislation, appointment, etc.), and, by the way, did I tell you that I have a condo developer interested in that lot next to yours. Yeah, he’d like to build a 6 (or 12) unit building. The deal’s looking good to me…”

My state’s senior senator, Dick Durbin, defends his protégé by saying the people just don’t understand (Ever notice that so many politicians seem to start statements with contentions that the people who elect them “just don’t understand…”? It kind of betrays their attitude toward us simple-minded peons, don’t you think? But I digress.) that there are people who will contribute to pols’ campaigns and don’t want anything other than to be close to politicians, to be close to the process. And I believe Mr. Durbin…this time. If there are people just dying for the opportunity to be close to the likes of Paris Hilton, I am sure there are people who just want to be close to politicians like Dick Durbin and Barack Obama and will pay big money to do so. I have belonged to several political organizations and civic organizations whose membership is rife with people who just want to be close to it. Politicians are like rock stars to a lot of people. So Durbin is right: There are people who will contribute to campaigns just to say that they did or to get their pictures taken with their idols. But, unless Tony Rezko’s current trial is a frivolous waste of time, believe me, Tony Rezko isn’t one of them.

This Rezko/Obama business is unseemly enough, but another Obama deal that has barely gotten any attention (Surprise!) is even more malodorous. As reported by Lynn Sweet in yesterday’s (i.e., Friday, 3/14’s) edition of the Sun-Times (page 4), Senator Obama requested a $1mm earmark for a hospital pavilion at the University of Chicago while his wife Michelle was something called Vice-President, Community and External Affairs at the University of Chicago Hospitals.

Hmm… This looks to us who live, or who have spent a good (both meanings) portion of their lives, in Chicago as a classic Windy City politics deal: “Yeah, I’ll get you the money (or the contract or whatever else it is you are seeking), but ya gotta pay me back. Tell ya what…put my wife (or kid or brother or brother-in-law or…) on the payroll and we’ll call it even.” It looks like a simple case of money finding its way from the taxpayers through a conduit (the U of Chicago Hospitals) to Obama’s family. Some might argue that the Senator failed in this effort, that the U of C didn’t receive the earmark, so everything is okay. But that’s like a bank robber arguing that, since he got caught before he got away with any money, he didn’t do anything wrong.

I know that, given the hagiography that passes for coverage of Obama in the mainstream press, the following remarks will elicit cries of “Sexism!,” with “Racism” probably thrown in for good measure. Remember, though, that when one’s opponent starts throwing around words like “racist,” “sexist,” “fascist,” “communist,” or “pro-terrorist,” one is in all likelihood winning the argument. But I digress.

Back in the ‘90s when Hillary Clinton’s cattle futures deal and other nefarious shenanigans came to light, I remarked on how tragic it was that a woman with her ability and brains had become “…little more than a bag lady for a corrupt southern governor.” Now that I am older and more restrained, I will not express similar disappointment that Michelle Obama, with all her smarts and talent, has become little more than a bag lady for a corrupt Chicago politician. (I also will not say the same thing about Patti Blagojevich, doubtless yet another manifestation of the restraint that comes with age. But I digress again. (Okay, one more digression, but at least a parenthetical one: Boy, did Rod Blagojevich get the better end of that deal. Patti is smart, tough, attractive, and has as her father one of the most powerful men in Chicago politics, a man who made Rod’s career but whom the omniscient Rod has seen fit to anger beyond hope of restoration their relationship. And Rod’s little more than a blow-dried popinjay.)) But this deal with the U of C really stinks to high heaven.

It’s beginning to look like the voters who so fervently want Barack Obama to be our next president had better be prepared to accept the federalization of the political mores of my home town as part of the deal.

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