Originally Posted: September 19, 2012 | 11:36 pm | Modified: September 20, 2012 at 12:03 am
via Getty Images and ap A security company owned by now-jailed political fundraiser Tony Rezko sought help from Obama and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in an effort to gain a lucrative contract in Iraq, according to a report published in 2007.
Writing in his 1995 autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," Obama said he became "a civil rights lawyer" because "to lend meaning to a community’s suffering and take part in its healing — that required something more."
There was indeed "something more" to Obama’s legal career, but it wasn’t civil rights litigation at the Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, where he was employed for a decade.
"He spent about half his time working with Bill Miceli and my former partner, Allison Davis, and that team," senior partner Judson Miner told The Washington Examiner. Most of the entries on Obama’s client list for the firm from that period were in real estate, construction and finance.
Miceli and Davis were the partners in charge of the firm’s housing and real estate practices. Davis would later leave the firm to join Obama mentor Tony Rezko in the real estate development business.
In March 1994, a year before "Dreams" was published, Obama was the lead defense attorney on an obscure case in Cook County Court that has heretofore escaped examination by the national media.
In this case, Obama defended a Chicago slumlord and powerful political ally who was charged with a long list of offenses against poor residents. The defendant was the Woodlawn Preservation & Investment Corp., controlled by Bishop Arthur Brazier, a South Side Chicago preacher and political operator.
Brazier’s burgeoning real estate empire included a low-income housing project at 6223 South University. Today, MapQuest describes the Woodlawn neighborhood as "quaint and sedate." But in the winter of 1994, it was a frigid hell.
Brazier was closely allied with Obama and his firm, not least because Davis was on WPIC’s Board of Directors. Davis was also the corporation’s registered agent, and he received the court summons when the city filed suit on the South University apartments.
Brazier’s WPIC had failed for nearly a month to supply heat and running water for the complex’s 15 crumbling apartments. On Jan. 18, 1994, the day the heat went off, Chicago’s official high temperature was 11 below zero, the day after it was 19 below.
Even worse, the residents were then ordered to leave the WPIC complex in the winter chill without the due process they would have been afforded by an eviction procedure.
In court documents reviewed by The Washington Examiner, Daniel W. Weil, commissioner of Chicago’s Buildings Department, slammed WPIC for multiple municipal code violations, including "failure to maintain adequate heat," failure "to provide every family unit with approved heating facilities," and "failure to provide adequate" supplies of either hot or cold running water.
Things were so bad that the city’s outraged corporation counsel declared that "the levying of a fine is not an adequate remedy" and asked the court for a permanent injunction against WPIC, appointment of a receiver and imposition of a lien on WPIC to pay for repairs, attorneys’ fees and court costs.
But Obama did his work so well that in the end, on March 3, 1994, the court simply fined WPIC $50. Only then did Obama tell the court of the forcible removal of tenants in the bitter cold.
An experienced Chicago housing attorney who reviewed the case at the Examiner’s request said $50 fines against politically powerful slumlords were not uncommon at that time. The lawyer, who currently works for the city, asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.
The attorney termed the forcible removal of the residents in the frigid Chicago winter "outrageous," and said it looked like "a way to avoid a lengthy eviction process by law. And if the tenants had leases, they should have been bought out with a cash payment in return for leaving the premises early."
The South University apartments eventually became part of a real estate syndication deal that Obama helped negotiate. Brazier remained as the controlling general partner, while the syndicated investors became limited partners.
The merging of Brazier’s insider contacts and influence with the limited partners’ financial resources enabled them to benefit collectively from bigger, more profitable deals than they would have each been able to do individually.
A Chicago housing expert with direct knowledge of WPIC’s real estate dealings told the Examiner that the syndication deal involving the apartments likely was being negotiated when the building lost heat.
"The property was one of five or six that was bundled together into a partnership and syndicated with tax credits," he said. It was a "prelude to being put into the partnership, which it ultimately was for purposes of the refinancing and syndication."
The WPIC case illustrates how Obama functioned at the center of a historic accommodation then developing between the Daley machine and its traditional opponents among the city’s liberal reformers.
Lubricating the deal was a flood of public and nonprofit federal and state tax credits and funding for low-income-housing projects that would enrich developers and empower ambitious politicians like Obama, at the expense of taxpayers and, especially, the poor.
Brazier was not merely an Obama legal client. A disciple of Chicago’s famous radical activist Saul Alinsky, Brazier was also a close political ally of Daley’s and one of the key movers and shakers among the city’s progressive political elite who in the years ahead would advance Obama at every turn.
Obama also did legal work involved in the establishment of four Brazier-Rezko limited partnerships: Woodlawn Partners Ltd., Central Woodlawn Partnership, KRMB Limited Partnership and Woodlawn Drexel Ltd. Partnership. Rezko is now serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for fraud and attempted bribery on state government contracts.
The former Obama firm still represents WPIC, as well as Brazier’s church, the Apostolic Church of God, and his Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization. Brazier’s son now oversees the properties.
As Brazier clung to life in 2010 in a Chicago hospital, Obama called him from the White House for what relatives described as an extremely tearful farewell.
Shortly after Brazier died, Obama issued a statement saying of the man he had once helped put 15 poor families on the street in the dead of winter:
"There is no way that we can replace the gentle heart and boundless determination that Bishop Brazier brought to some of the most pressing challenges facing Chicago and our nation."
Obama’s toughest critics on the Left
Originally September 20, 2012 | 12:07 am | Modified: September 20, 2012 at 12:02 am
Obama’s toughest critic on the Left, the late Robert Fitch, charged that Obama’s most trusted aide, Valerie Jarrett, made a fortune as a real estate developer. Fitch, a radical leftist and freelance journalist who specialized in urban politics and economics, said Obama surrounded himself with people who got rich on Chicago’s $1.6 billion neighborhood demolition program known officially as the Plan for Transformation.
Barack Obama’s carefully constructed image as a civil rights lawyer who wanted to heal the black community was greeted with skepticism by some Chicago activists.
"I never drank the Kool-Aid about Barack Obama," veteran Chicago black activist Eddie Read told The Washington Examiner. Read is president of the Black Independent Political Organization, one of Chicago’s largest black community groups.
Read — who describes himself as a "black nationalist" — said Chicago streets are filled with genuine "street gangsters" and phonies known as "studio gangsters." The latter are impersonators who make money acting in studio-produced rap videos.
The same dichotomy is found among Chicago’s street activists, Read said. "So what you get from me is I’m still up in the air on whether or not my brother Obama was a real activist or a studio activist."
Robert Stark, director of the liberal Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies, told the Examiner that the demolition effort required to clear the way for the new affordable-housing projects advocated by Obama was disastrous for low-income blacks on Chicago’s South Side.
"Obviously, when you’re talking about the demolition of housing, there has been a great deal of controversy because poor people were not given an opportunity to come back to the housing that replaced the demolished housing," said Stark, whose institute is based at Northeastern Illinois University.
Wardell Lavender is a tenant activist who has lived in the Woodlawn section of Chicago since 1951. "We don’t know what happened to those people," Lavender told the Examiner. "What we didn’t do was keep track of them because a lot of them ended up homeless."
Obama’s toughest critic on the Left, however, was the late Robert Fitch. Fitch, a radical leftist and freelance journalist who specialized in urban politics and economics, said Obama surrounded himself with people who got rich on Chicago’s $1.6 billion neighborhood demolition program known officially as the Plan for Transformation.
At least 25,000 low-income apartments in Chicago were destroyed under the program, which forced thousands of black families — many of whom lived in Obama’s state Senate district — to move out of the city. Obama’s political allies directed the effort.
"What we see is that the Chicago core of the Obama coalition is made up of blacks who’ve moved up by moving poor blacks out of the community," Fitch charged in a 2008 speech before the Harlem Tenants Association. Fitch died in 2011.
Fitch claimed in that speech that Obama sold out to a corrupt Chicago establishment. "Obama’s political base comes primarily from Chicago FIRE — the finance, insurance and real estate industry," he said.
"It’s also true that key black members of the Obama inner circle are Daley administration alumni, but they’ve moved up — now they’re part of Chicago FIRE," he said.
Fitch singled out Obama’s most trusted aide, Valerie Jarrett, as one who stood out among those who made fortunes as real estate operators. Jarrett once worked for Mayor Daley, then later became CEO of the Habitat Co., one of the city’s largest real estate development firms.
Fitch also criticized Martin Nesbitt, Daley’s former head of the Chicago Housing Authority and vice president of Pritzker Realty. Like Jarrett, Nesbitt is among Obama’s closest personal friends.
Also in Fitch’s cross hairs was Allison Davis, Obama’s law firm boss who built a real estate empire by dealing in low-income housing with business partner Tony Rezko, Obama’s mentor who is now serving a federal prison sentence.
In that 2008 speech in Harlem, N.Y., Fitch also blasted Chicago church leaders who he said profited on the poor. Chief among these "real estate reverends," as Fitch called them, was Bishop Arthur Brazier.
Brazier, a close Obama confidant and law client, ran the crumbling Grove Parc project alongside his Apostolic Church of God. Jarrett, Davis and Rezko were all involved with Grove Parc. Grove Parc is still owned by WPIC but has more recently been managed by the Project on Affordable Housing, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that obtains large, multifamily properties and refinances them for long-term affordability.
Three weeks after Obama won the 2008 election, Fitch warned his Harlem audience about "hope and change," saying, "we have to make some distinctions between the change they believe in and the change we believe in; between our interests and theirs."
Michael Hudson, a real estate economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was Fitch’s editor at the Village Voice. He said Fitch despised Chicago political insiders like Obama, who, he argued, became wealthy while cloaking themselves as reformers.
"Bob Fitch’s basic premise," Hudson told the Examiner, "was to show that the reform Democrats always have been the pro-financial real estate interests to do insider dealings. They are people who wear halos when in fact they are predators."
Hudson said Fitch thought the Plan for Transformation was a con game. "The essence of a con game is to pose as you’re doing a public service. That’s the cover story for getting the public money both to redevelop buildings or to get rid of all the tenants."
Obama’s political endorsements also worried liberal reformers concerned about good government. Cynthia Canary, former head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, recalled Obama’s endorsement of corrupt officials like the imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago City Council members.
"The thing that startled me," she said, "was when Obama made endorsements of certain City Council members and people who we already knew were in trouble," she told the Examiner.