Saturday, November 01, 2008

Dirty Chicago Politics

BO presents himself as a new kind of post-partisan, post-political, post-racial leader. A reformer who hovers above the morass that other politicians trudge through. An agent of change, a beacon of hope, the Messiah sent to establish heaven on earth. I’ve spent months researching about his history, his political career, and the people he has teamed up with and the tactics he has used to get where he is today. I am going to post a series of articles in which I examine these claims and compare his actual deeds to the perception he has worked so hard to create.

My examination starts on a cold, windy January day in Chicago. BO hired a consultant named Ronald Davis to examine the petitions submitted by his primary opponent, incumbent Illinois Senator Alice Palmer. She was required to submit 757 signatures to get onto the ballot for re-election. She submitted 1,580 signatures. Davis’ job was to disqualify enough petitions to get Palmer thrown off the ballot. BO says he was uneasy with this hardball tactic, but he justified it by saying “If you couldn’t run a successful petition drive, then that raised questions in terms of how effective a representative you were going to be.”

BO checked up on the project nightly, as one by one, Davis and his team disqualified Palmer’s signatures. The Chicago paper reported that some of the petitions were disqualified because the registered voter printed his name rather than writing it. A female voter got married after she registered to vote and signed her maiden name.

Eventually, BO brought Palmer below 757 signatures and threw an incumbent state senator off the ballot. While they were at it, they got the other three candidates disqualified as well. One of them was named Gha-is Askia. He didn’t stand much of a chance of beating Palmer, but he had gathered 1899 signatures. Askia was quoted in the Chicago Tribune saying:

“Why say you are for a new tomorrow, then use old-style Chicago political tricks to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?”

This was the same man who just three years earlier ran ACORN's “Project Vote” which flooded the city with its slangy slogan “It’s a power thing.” The hundreds of volunteers he trained produced the first black voting majority in Chicago history and created a buzz that BO was the kind of candidate who could run against his opponents and win. But now, thanks to his “petitions guru” he had no opponents. Did he believe that he couldn't win if the voters had another option?

Years later he explained his tactics saying, “If you can win, you should win and get to work doing the people’s business.”

BO promises to smooth over the bitter divides of American politics. He promises hope and an end to bitter partisanship. He frames himself as someone who rises above Clintonian or Rovian tactics. Contrast those claims to what he did in 1996 before he was even elected state senator. He had already done enough to make Karl Rove, Bill Clinton, or Niccolo Machiavelli proud.

BO got his start in politics by denying voters a choice.

Does this betray BO’s professed ideals? Does it clash with his “new politics?” Was he really serving South Side’s voters with his tactics?

When asked about this in 2007, he smiled and said, “I think they ended up with a very good state senator.”

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