Armed with a bestselling autobiography he did not write, a law lecturer job he did not earn and a willingness to take advantage of the less fortunate for his own personal gain, Obama was a natural fit for Chicago politics. In 1997 he threw his hat into the ring to represent the 13th district in the Illinois state senate.
The seat had been held by Dr. Alice Palmer since 1991. Having built her reputation as editor of the Black Press Review and well liked in the community, in 1996 Palmer announced her intention to run for Congress and personally selected Obama as her successor for her state senate seat. Unfortunately for Palmer she came in as a distant 3rd in the House race to the eventual winner Jesse Jackson, Jr. Faced with the end of her political career she asked Obama to step aside so that she could run for her old seat unopposed. Not one to shy away from introducing friends and colleagues alike to the underside of the bus, Obama refused.
As a political newcomer and unknown in the 13th district, Obama had little chance of defeating Palmer in a primary election, so he earned his victory the old fashioned way – he got Palmer and the rest of his opponents kicked off the ballot by challenging their nominating petitions in court. With 757 registered voter signatures needed to run, he was able to challenge enough of Palmer’s signatures leaving her short of the required total. With no one opposing him Obama won the election and took his place as state senator.
From the beginning of his time in the Illinois State Senate Obama counted slumlords among his most ardent supporters. Chicago influence peddler Antoin “Tony” Rezko, convicted in 2008 of mail fraud, wire fraud and corruption and Valerie Jarrett, his most trusted White House advisor and close personal friend, were early Obama acolytes. They were also the owners of dilapidated, publicly financed housing projects in Obama’s district that he never seemed to notice, even when federal authorities declared them uninhabitable.
Valerie Jarrett is the granddaughter of Robert R. Taylor, a Chicago Housing Authority board member in the 1950s and 60s and incidentally a good friend of Frank Marshall Davis, Obama’s childhood communist mentor. Taylor helped develop the publicly financed model for low income housing in Chicago. He was also the namesake of the Robert Taylor Homes, a collection of 28 high rise public housing buildings that ran along a south side of Chicago expressway. Opened in 1962, the buildings quickly developed a reputation for being dens of drugs, violence and gangs and the site of hundreds of murders. For decades they were national symbols of government’s inability to provide satisfactory living standards for generation after generation of welfare recipients.
Under the leadership of Mayor Richard M. Daley in the 1990s, Chicago would attempt to implement a new model for public housing. Instead of tightly packed high rises built and run by the government, money would instead be given to private investors who would oversee the construction and management of properties themselves. Between the City of Chicago and State of Illinois, the amount allocated for the program was staggering. Hundreds of millions dollars in easy money just begging for unscrupulous investors to stuff into their own pockets.
A graduate of University of Michigan Law School, Jarrett used her family’s connections to secure a City of Chicago Deputy Counsel position in 1987. Under Mayor Daley she rose to Deputy Chief of Staff and in 1992 was appointed as Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development. In a cosmic sense of irony, it was Jarrett’s task to undue her grandfather’s legacy by facilitating Chicago’s transition to publicly financed, privately managed low income housing.
In 1995, looking to cash in on her housing industry contacts, Jarrett took an executive job at The Habitat Company which managed over 23,000 apartments that included a number of Chicago public housing projects. By 2002 she rose to CEO and in 2008 alone she made over $1 million. While Jarrett was raking in the dough, residents at Grove Parc Plaza, a Habitat development in Obama’s district, were left to live in filth as fire damage went unrepaired, vermin ran rampant and sewage backed up into kitchen sinks.
Tony Rezko would also cash in on the Chicago’s new found willingness to hand over millions to unscrupulous property developers. In the 1990s Rezko would collect $87 million for renovating 1,000 low income apartments including many in Obama’s district. Just like Jarrett’s Grove Parc Plaza which the federal government would eventually declare unfit for human habitation, within 10 years of their renovation many of Rezko’s buildings crumbled to dust as the rats moved in, the roofs leaked, and the heating failed.
It wasn’t only corrupt developers who would benefit financially from the public-private low income housing relationship, politicians also made a killing on the program. The Boston Globe estimated that six property developers including Jarrett and Rezko “collectively contributed more than $175,000 to Obama’s campaigns over the last decade and raised hundreds of thousands more from other donors. Rezko alone raised at least $200,000, by Obama’s own accounting.”
Obama made sure his campaign contributors got millions in taxpayer sponsored payback for their support. During his time in the Illinois State Senate Obama was one of the most vocal supporters of the public-private housing partnership. In 1997 he described the unholy relationship as “smart policy” and in 2001 he co-sponsored a bill that provided $26 million a year in tax credits for private developers.
Obama built his political career on selling poor people the notion that he was for them, and then turning around and stabbing them in the back as corrupt influence peddlers stole all the taxpayer money that was meant to improve their lives. As long as he got his cut in campaign contributions, Obama turned a blind eye to any and all malfeasance on their part. As described by Paul Johnson, an activist who organized a protest against Obama’s run for U.S. Senate: “How didn’t he know? Of course he knew. He just didn’t care.”
In 2007 Congress attempted to take the Chicago model nationwide with the National Affordable Housing Trust. On the surface the program was sold as providing 1.5 million apartments for low income residents, but in reality it was a multi-billion dollar giveaway to Democrat special interests. Even the Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid controlled Congress found the potential for corruption, as demonstrated in Chicago, too much to swallow. The bill was abandoned and has remained in limbo ever since.