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The Senator and the Slumlord

The Sun-Times expands today on Barack Obama's relationship with indicted political wheel Tony Rezko in the first of a two-part investigation, this part called "Obama and His Slumlord Patron."

The paper reports that "new facts [have] come to light that paint Rezko as a landlord overseeing dilapidated housing in the middle of Obama's former state Senate district," and that "Obama did legal work on some Rezko deals."

As the paper acknowledges, the scope of Obama's work remains unknown. But his involvement at some level is unmistakable - as is the absence of evidence Obama ever spoke up for the low-income citizens in his district whose lives were made miserable by the crappy housing Rezko built for them, even as he was taking campaign contributions from Rezko. On that score, the campaign would only say - in a written statement - that "Senator Obama did follow up on constituency complaints about housing as a matter of routine."

For now, I'd just like to focus on the part of the story that once again belies Obama's professed desire for a new kind of politics, one that would presumably include transparency and accountability of our elected officials, and that's the way he and his staff have tried to manage this story.

"For five weeks, the Sun-Times sought to interview Obama about Rezko and the housing deals," the paper says. "His staff wanted written questions. It responded Sunday but left many questions unanswered. Other answers didn't directly address the question."

The paper says it submitted questions in writing on March 14. It received an e-mail response yesterday. And not much of a response. "They didn't say what deals he worked on - or how much work he did."

Others have closed ranks about Obama too. The paper asked Judson Miner, a partner in the law firm Obama worked at - the one that partnered with Rezko in his ill-fated housing developments - about the cases Obama worked on.

"We'll put together a list of the cases he worked on involving Rezko/Rezmar in the next day or two," Miner told the Sun-Times.

"That was March 13," the paper reports. "He never provided the information."

Gee, do you think there's something they're trying to hide?

Money Man
"Over the years, Rezko, [his partner], their wives and businesses have given more than $50,000 to Obama's campaign funds, records show," the paper reports. "And Rezko has helped raise millions more."

In fact, Obama appointed Rezko to serve on his U.S. Senate campaign finance committee. (And gave the son of a contributor an internship at Rezko's request.)

Shortly after, Obama called Rezko for "advice" on a home he wanted to buy in the Kenwood neighborhood. That's right - according to what Obama has previously told the Sun-Times, Obama called Rezko. So much for wily Tony just trying to get close to a rising political star.

Of course, we don't know much about that phone call because Obama diverted the media's attention by calling his later purchase of a fence boneheaded, as if that was the issue, and not the discount purchase of a home on the same day that the adjoining property was bought and placed in the name of Rezko's wife.

In both that story and today's, the Sun-Times reports that it put questions in writing to Obama - a practice I wouldn't allow in any newsroom I was running. (But a strategy no doubt crafted by Obama media manager David Axelrod - you know, the same guy who advises the mayor.) Doing so allows a campaign to carefully construct answers, get out in front of a story, contact other possible sources and tell them to clam up, and prevent a reporter from asking follow-up questions such as "Tell me more about that phone call, Senator," or "So you never took any particular action to help constituents in your district living in the slums your patron Tony Rezko built? Why not?"

This story says as much about Obama's relationship with Rezko (and in finally raising questions about how well he represented his state senate district) as it does his lack of devotion to honest dealings with the media. And in the end, that could prove more deadly.

*

For more of the Beachwood's coverage of Obama, check out the Obamathon collection.



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Posted on April 23, 2007


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