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June 27, 2008
Change we can be shocked at
For a candidate who touts a mantra of "Change" until people turn a little green around the gills whenever they hear it, Obama better be careful. Even a cursory examination of his record in Chicago as a state senator bringing "change" to public housing would cause voters to ask some serious questions about his competence.
This devastating piece in the Boston Globe on just what Obama's leadership on developing government-private housing projects did to public housing in Chicago should open a few eyes:
The squat brick buildings of Grove Parc Plaza, in a dense neighborhood that Barack Obama represented for eight years as a state senator, hold 504 apartments subsidized by the federal government for people who can't afford to live anywhere else.
As a state senator (and as a member of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland - a law firm that handled much of the legal work for developers seeking to partner with the city and state in building or rehabbing public housing units), Obama pushed hard to finance these projects back in the 1990's. The results are seen above.
But is there more to Obama's support of these projects? Did they have a political reason for being touted by the candidate?
The partnerships were an entree for Obama into the high powered world of fat cat political donors. And as far as whether Obama knew of the problems with the units, the file cabinets at Obama's law firm are stuffed with pleas from ordinary citizens asking the firm - which handled many landlord-tenant disputes in the past - to intervene with the developers and get them to fix things like running water and problems with heaters.
Those pleas fell largely on deaf ears as the law firm took hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from these developers to represent their interests and help them through the maze of paperwork required to receive the grants from the city and state to rehab or develop the housing projects.
The key player was, of course, Tony Rezko. The now convicted developer/political operator brought Obama along and introduced him to several of the city's major players in the development community - players who later would figure prominently in his fundraising activities for the senate and early presidential efforts. At the time - the early and mid 1990's - Chicago was in the midst of an enormous redevelopment craze and the developers were looking to get in on the action.
Obama and his law firm were more than happy to oblige.
But today, thousands of those units are in the process of being condemned or are nearly unlivable. While not directly responsible, the fact that Obama aggressively pushed the idea of city/private partnerships in public housing and that it became a spectacular failure.
All the more reason to look at Obama's mantra of "change" with a more jaundiced eye.
Hat Tip: Ed Lasky
Update -- Clarice Feldman adds:
Maybe its experience with David Axelrod's other client, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who also talked a good game but couldn't manage a picnic, has opened the Boston Globe's eyes to Obama.