Fox News reports on Blagojevich efforts to bribe Obama advisors – Focus on Emanuel

Lots of focus today on the two-hour conference call between Blago’s Illinois team and some unnamed advisors and consultants in Washington DC. Although I do not understand Obama’s legalistic denials of contact with Blago, it appears that he did not authorize any deals over the Senate seat. His first choice of for the White House, Rahm Emanuel may have been involved and has not addressed the claims that he might be one of the advisors in touch with Blago.
In the criminal complaint, Blagojevich becomes especially angry at one point when it becomes clear that Obama would not deal at this time. Here is the excerpt from pages 63-64:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant are believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to “suck it up” for two years and do nothing and give this “motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH states that he will put “[Senate Candidate 4]” in the Senate “before I just give fucking [Senate Candidate 1] a fucking Senate seat and I don’t get anything.” (Senate Candidate 4 is a Deputy Governor of the State of Illinois).

Obama supporters will see in this a commendable unwillingness to deal. Those who are suspicious of Obama may see something else. Blago is informed he must “‘suck it up’ for two years and do nothing.” Why is the sucking for only two years? Obviously angry, Blago anticipated something more from Obama. What in their relationship would give Blago any idea that he could make a quid pro quo with Obama?
Blago’s advisors do not the like the two year span. They say on pages 64-65,

One of ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s advisors said he likes the idea, it sounds like a good idea, but advised ROD BLAGOJEVICH to be leery of promises for something two years from now. ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife said they would take the job now. Thereafter, ROD BLAGOJEVICH and others on the phone call discussed various ways ROD BLAGOJEVICH can “monetize” the relationships he is making as Governor to make money after ROD BLAGOJEVICH is no longer Governor. Later on November 10, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH and Advisor A discussed the open Senate seat. Among other things, ROD BLAGOJEVICH raised the issue of whether the President-elect could help get ROD BLAGOJEVICH’s wife on “paid corporate boards right now.” Advisor A responded that he “think[s] they could” and that a “President-elect. . . can do almost anything he sets his mind to.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH states that he will appoint “[Senate Candidate 1] . . . but if they feel like they can do this and not fucking give me anything . . . then I’ll fucking go [Senate Candidate 5].” (Senate Candidate 5 is publicly reported to be interested in the open Senate seat). ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that if his wife could get on some corporate boards and “picks up another 150 grand a year or whatever” it would help ROD BLAGOJEVICH get through the next several years as Governor.

Blago’s advisors and someone on the call begin talking about how something positive could happen for Blago within the two year period. Blago says essentially if I get something monetary now then Valerie Jarrett (Candidate #1) will be appointed; if not then I will send up Jesse Jackson, Jr. (#5).
FoxNews looked at this earlier tonight with special attention to the timing of Valerie Jarrett’s interest then lack of interest.

PS – Mr. Emanuel, how hard is it to just say no?
Is this Emanuel?

On November 13, 2008, ROD BLAGOJEVICH talked with JOHN HARRIS. ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he wanted to be able to call “[President-elect Advisor]” and tell President-elect Advisor that “this has nothing to do with anything else we’re working on but the Governor wants to put together a 501(c)(4)” and “can you guys help him. . . raise 10, 15 million.” ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he wanted “[President-elect Advisor] to get the word today,” and that when “he asks me for the Fifth CD thing I want it to be in his head.” (The reference to the “Fifth CD thing” is believed to relate to a seat in the United States House of Representatives from Illinois’ Fifth Congressional District. Prior intercepted phone conversations indicate that ROD BLAGOJEVICH and others were determining whether ROD BLAGOJEVICH has the power to appoint an interim replacement until a special election for the seat can be held.).

UPDATE: 12/12/08 – Looks like Emanuel is indeed the focus. As this report points out, one would expect conversations and they are not illegal. The issue will be for the Obama administration what Emanuel said on those taped calls.

Obama's housing record, part five – View from a constituent, Beauty Turner

Beauty Turner is a long time public housing activist in the South Side of Chicago in the district where Barack Obama served as Illinois state senator. She is also a free lance writer, covering issues of concern to residents of the district. Respected in her community, she will be a featured commentator for WPHK in Chicago on election night. As a resident of public housing in the area where Obama cut his political teeth, she has been a long time observer of the Democrat candidate. She is the host of Beauty’s Ghetto Bus Tours, where visitors to Chicago can see the projects first hand. Despite being an anti-war activist and having liberal leanings, she is quite critical of Barack Obama.
I found Ms. Turner online blog while doing research on Barack Obama record on housing while he was a state senator from 1996-2004. In this post, I summarize a brief conversation with her about Obama’s record while an Illinois state senator. Given Obama’s constant promise of change, I wanted to see what kind of change he brought to the streets of Chicago’s South side. What I found was dramatically disappointing.
First some background. Some of the worst episodes in a rather bleak recent history of public housing in Chicago took place during Senator Obama’s watch. For instance, on one occasion during a five week period during the frigid Chicago winter of 1996-1997, a building in his district went without heat. Here is how the Chicago Sun-Times described the situation:

For more than five weeks during the brutal winter of 1997, tenants shivered without heat in a government-subsidized apartment building on Chicago’s South Side.
It was just four years after the landlords — Antoin “Tony” Rezko and his partner Daniel Mahru — had rehabbed the 31-unit building in Englewood with a loan from Chicago taxpayers.
Rezko and Mahru couldn’t find money to get the heat back on.
But their company, Rezmar Corp., did come up with $1,000 to give to the political campaign fund of Barack Obama, the newly elected state senator whose district included the unheated building.
Obama has been friends with Rezko for 17 years. Rezko has been a political patron to Obama and many others, helping to raise millions of dollars for them through his own contributions and by hosting fund-raisers in his home.

The same Sun-Time article adds,

The tenants there had no heat from Dec. 27, 1996, until at least Feb. 3, 1997, when the city of Chicago sued to turn the heat on. The case was settled later that month with a $100 fine.
It was during that time that the area’s new state senator, Barack Obama, got a $1,000 campaign donation from Rezmar. The date: Jan. 14, 1997.

When asked about the incident, Senator Obama said he “never had a conversation with Mr. Rezko about the matter.” The Boston Globe later probed for more about these events, but the Obama campaign did not answer their specific questions.
I asked Ms. Turner if she was aware of an occasion when Obama publicly confronted those managing the properties in decline about the worsening conditions. She was unaware of any such confrontation, saying that Obama “was for privatizing of public housings,” and added:

Just take a look at who all signed on to privatizing public housing, as well as who received the managing contracts as well as who benefited from these moves.

When asked specifically, who Ms. Turner referred to, she said,

Valerie Jarrett and, Daley and William Moorehead, Reverend Brazier, and Reverend Leon Finley were his friends they received contracts for managing CHA properties, some were indicted such as Moorehead.

Valerie Jarrett, who might head HUD in an Obama administration, until recently headed Habitat, Inc., which managed Grove Parc as its HUD inspection rating went from 82 out of 100 in 2003 to an abysmal 11 in 2006. Mrs. Jarrett is a fixture in Chicago, sitting on the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago and serves as close adviser to Obama.
When I asked her what Obama accomplished while state senator, she said, “He accomplished getting known.”
Ms. Turner’s view is that Obama cared more about privatizing housing than the conditions his constituents had to endure, saying, “He ignores the poor but if thing continues to fall there will be only two groups of people the rich and the poor.”
These are very strong words, perhaps even stronger than I would have used. However, I didn’t live there. It is an irony that may be completely lost on the American people that the candidate who promises “the change we need” is not viewed as a change agent by a former constituent.
Most politicians like to talk about their accomplishments, their record. However, Barack Obama frequently speaks about what is going to do. He has little to say about what he has done. Perhaps that is because there is so little to talk about. When it comes to his record on housing, it is largely, to quote reporter Binyamin Appelbaum, “a story of what did not happen.”
Where are the stories of how Obama took on the Chicago political machine to get things done for his constituents? Where are the stories of how he helped expose corruption and cronyism while an Illinois state senator?
Ms. Turner has a warning for Americans should Barack Obama become president:

If he get elected or when he is elected, the people will have to stand up and be counted, and do not, I repeat do not let him mess over them in any way!

I have little doubt that Beauty Turner will stand up and be counted.
Other posts in this series:
Part One: Obama’s housing policies: Is past prologue?
Part Two: Obama’s housing policies: Cold constituents
Part Three: Obama’s housing policies: A story about what did not happen
Part Four: Obama’s housing record: Obama’s housing advisers

Obama's housing record, part four – Obama's housing advisors

Lonnie Richardson is renowned in the Woodlawn area of Chicago, a mixed income area bordering the University of Chicago. Mr. Richardson has lived in Grove Parc Plaza, a 504 unit apartment complex for 20 years. He is president of the Grove Parc Plaza Tenant Association and in that role has fought to keep the apartment complex viable. Grove Parc Plaza is in the senate district Barack Obama represented as a state senator from 1996 through 2004.
On November 19, 2007, Mr. Richardson and group of 3 other supporters were arrested following a protest at the Housing and Urban Development office in Chicago. HUD wanted to demolish the complex because conditions had deteriorated under the management of Obama campaign finance committee member Valerie Jarrett’s company, Habitat. The Grove Parc residents were faced with eviction. Mustering resolve to stay in their apartments and neighborhood, they sought permission to find another company to manage their complex. The group found Preservation Of Affordable Housing, a non-profit organization, willing to manage and revitalize Grove Parc. However, HUD initially refused to allow POAH to take over. HUD refusal is what sparked the acrimonious confrontation and led to the arrests. Later, a federal judge dismissed the charges against Richardson and the others.
The protest was videotaped by Labor Beat which is affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1220. At about Lonnie Richardson (the caption on the video clip incorrectly reads Lonnie Richard) speaks about the meeting with HUD, the arrest and the problems with Grove Parc management.

At 3:30 in the video, Lonnie Richardson expresses his frustration with HUD and “big developers.” He said,

If this was one of these big developers, like the Allison Davises, the W. Picks, T.W.Os, all these big developers have got all this money from HUD and have wasted it. The development that we live in; this is why we are being pushed out, because for 16 years, we have been living in the slums. They haven’t put the money in what it’s supposed to be put in. They are foreclosing on them because they didn’t give us quality living. Now they want to see us out for. We got our own private developer; it’s a non-profit developer. They refuse to listen to our developers; they are putting issues out there where they have to have their hands tied, so they can walk away from this, so they can continue to give this here to these slumlords. If this was any of these other developers to do this on our behalf, we wouldn’t be here today. And I live in Grove Parc and I been living there for the last 20 years and this has been going on for the last 20 years they been doing this in Grove Parc.

Allison Davis is the lawyer that hired Barack Obama out of law school and has been a vital part of his political career. Mr. Davis remains an advisor to Mr. Obama and Mr. Obama has continued to do favors for Mr. Davis and his associates involving tax dollars for more housing developments.
It is clear that Mr. Richardson believes the management of the apartments is inadequate because HUD money has not been spent well. Eventually HUD allowed POAH to take over from Valerie Jarrett’s Habitat.
Given the track record of poor performance by Obama’s real estate development friends and supporters, one wonders why they still advise Obama. Also, one wonders why Obama still funnels grants to them. Obama did that earlier this year when he wrote the HUD expressing support for a federal housing grant.
The Washington Times reported that

Sen. Barack Obama, who vows to change Washington by trimming wasteful spending and disclosing special-interest requests, wrote the Bush administration last year to seek a multimillion-dollar federal grant for a Chicago housing project that is behind schedule and whose development team includes a longtime political supporter.
But complicating the picture, one of developers for the Stateway Project is a firm headed by Allison S. Davis, one of Mr. Obama’s early mentors and a longtime political supporter. A founding partner at the firm where Mr. Obama practiced law, Mr. Davis and his family have given the senator from Illinois tens of thousands of dollars in political contributions over the years.
Aides to Mr. Obama said he did not know of Mr. Davis’ involvement in the Stateway project when he sent the letter.

Chicago’s public housing problems have historically been among the worst in the nation from Grove Parc to the infamous Cabrini-Green project. No one could expect a state senator to clean all that up and fix that problem in 8 years. However, there is no public record that he discussed these constituent concerns with the people who were overseeing much of these developments. He had perfect opportunity since these same people were the ones funding his campaigns and providing policy and political advice.
Previous posts in this series:
Part One: Obama’s housing policies: Is past prologue?
Part Two: Obama’s housing policies: Cold constituents
Part Three: Obama’s housing policies: A story about what did not happen

Obama's housing record, part three – A story about what did not happen

The Boston Globe on June 27, 2008 published an article by Binyamin Appelbaum about Obama’s state senate record on public housing. As a follow-up, Mr. Appelbaum was interviewed on July 1, 2008 by National Public Radio’s Farai Chideya along with Illinois state representative Julie Hamos. Ms. Hamos spoke in defense of private developers getting tax dollars to rehab public houing and Mr. Appelbaum elaborated on his report.
You can listen to the entire interview at the link above or here. I am going to highlight a few excerpts.

Farai: So, Binyamin let me start with you. Your article focuses on Grove Parc Plaza – it’s a development located in the district that Obama represented for eight years when he was a state senator. So, uh, tell us why you zeroed in on this development.
Binyamin: We were interested in Obama’s years as a state senator because it’s sort of his largest body of work as a politician. And so we thought it would be instructive to look at how he did, and the issue of affordable housing was a signature issue for him; it was one of his major focuses both before becoming an elected official and during his time as an elected official. And what we found was that the policies that he supported in many cases, produced developments that failed. And furthermore, many of the major beneficiaries of those policies have been his friends and supporters. And many of the people who have suffered were his constituents, people who lived in his state senate district. Grove Parc is one of the outstanding examples of this problem. It sits on the border of Obama’s district, its 504 apartments of subsidized housing of fully renovated in the early 1990’s, uh, that have fallen in to such disrepair that the plan now is to demolish them and start all over again. It was built by a non-profit, led by a number of Obama supporters. It was managed during the period of its greatest decline by a company called The Habitat Company, which is led by Valerie Jarrett, who is a senior advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign. And it’s, it’s as I said, in his district. So it struck us as sort of emblematic of the issue we wanted to write about.

Mr. Appelbaum provides a very reasonable to explore Obama’s career as a state senator – “his largest body of work as a politician.” Focusing on Tony Rezko’s illegal activities obscures that Mr. Obama was largely ineffective in making changes or fighting the status quo. As Appelbaum noted, he maintains advisors who were with him in Chicago. For instance, former Habitat head, Valerie Jarrett is touted as a top administration pick.
Appelbaum says the Obama campaign did not address his questions completely.

Farai: You did reach out to Senator Obama, what did he tell you about his perception of the issues that you raised?
Binyamin: The Obama Campaign affirmed Senator Obama’s support, uh, for the policy of subsidizing private developers and managers of affordable housing. It did not respond to questions about whether the Senator was aware of problems in his district.

Rep. Hamos still stuck up for private-public partnerships.

Farai: Now Julie, let me go to you. From your perspective, as someone who is a state representative, what did you think of the article? Um, what do you think of the entire issue of, um, privatizing public housing, whether or not it’s worked, and whether or not there is a hint of perhaps too much leeway being given to developers linked to the Senator?
Julie: Well, first of all, I thought the article was unclear in the way that it focused on some projects, and in this particular case, Grove Parc is a great example. Grove Parc was built in 1970 under, really under a failed policy of the federal government. It was called Project Base-Section 8– it was built as a project-base-section-eight program. And these projects, typically, did not have enough money put into them by the federal government, for the kind of maintenance we really need long term to make sure they succeed. This is exactly the kind or programs that we’re not really building anymore. And Grove Park is an example of that. Those have been replaced now by more innovative and successful policies, and those policies are in fact the privatize-public partnerships that we should be really applauding. They are the partnerships used in tax credits that have now created thousands of units of much smaller developments out of mixed-income developments, and really been revitalizing neighborhoods. So, I fully support, as a public policy maker, what we are trying to do now, which is to bring in private developers using market based incentives to get them to build affordable housing. This is still a very big issue in most communities. It certainly is here in Illinois. But it is the model that is working. Grove Parc is an old model that didn’t work, and we replaced it.

Reporter Appelbaum came to the conclusion that Obama did not help his people when he could have done so.

Farai: Binyamin, let me bring this back into a larger framework, which is Democratic politics. Um, the issue made headlines during the democratic primary. Let’s listen to Senator Clinton in South Carolina:
Senator Clinton: I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor Rezko in his slum land-lord business in inner-city Chicago.
Farai: That’s Senator Clinton attacking Senator Barak Obama for his connection to Antonin Rezko and Rezko was a major Obama fundraiser. Give us a little more of a context, Binyamin, on what exactly the connection is between Rezko and Obama.
Binyamin: Rezko is a really interesting example. Rezko, who was one of Obama’s primary fundraisers, particularly for his earlier political campaigns, he was a friend of the Senator’s, he was involved in Obama’s purchase of a home in 2005, but what is really interesting about Tony Rezko is that he was a developer on the model that, uh, (Ms. Ramos) was just describing. In that he built mixed used, mixed income housing, mixed income communities, scattered across Chicago, small numbers of developments. The model that was both/built to replace Grove Parc. And that also failed spectacularly. And it failed for the same reason, which is the private managers, private developers, were not equity supervised by the government. They all say that they didn’t get enough money to manage these projects. Perhaps that’s true, although some of them succeed, and some of them fail – those that succeed said they do have enough money and those that fail said that they don’t have enough money. But whether or not that’s the issue, the fact of the matter is this new, new model, this third generation of subsidized development so far it doesn’t have a better track record than the generation that included Grove Park. Which incidentally, was most recently redone after the administration of Harold Washington. One broader note here, which is as much as this is a story about what happened in Chicago, it’s also a story about what did not happen. And specifically, it’s not, we’re not in any way finding that Barak Obama directed money to these developers, that he was directly responsible for the suffering of his constituents. What’s interesting here is that Obama did not stand up and point his finger at the problems, and he did not participate, as best we can tell, in an effort to correct the problems. That, that to me is as much the issue as what went wrong.

The interviewer asks Ms. Hamos about Obama’s performance and in my view, she does not answer the question. She says in part:

We understand that these affordable housing developers don’t have a lot of cash going though them. They’re for very low-income people. And it’s a challenge to manage these well, and it’s a challenge to get enough money to have good on-site management operations. So we understand this – that some developments do better than other developments. And yet we don’t stand up an accuse and blame the people that we’re trying to bring into the process. It is one of the challenges for building housing for very low income people that continues to today.

I think she is saying Obama should not have confronted mismanagement because he needed the developers (“the people that we’re trying to bring into the process”). I am not sure really, but it sounds like enabling poor outcomes.
Other posts in this series:
Part One: Obama’s housing policies: Is past prologue?
Part Two: Obama’s housing policies: Cold constituents
Part Four: Obama’s housing policies: Obama’s housing advisors