Obama connection to Chicago props up Illinois politics as usual, communications director says
For better or worse, Chicago informed former President Barack Obama at least as much as Obama informed Chicago, a communications director for a Chicago-area political group said during a radio broadcast.
"A lot of times, we say, 'The Obama administration exported the Chicago Way to Washington, but, in return, he has also really helped preserve the Chicago Way in Illinois," Illinois Opportunity Project Director of Communication Kathleen Murphy said during a recent edition of "Illinois Rising." "Illinois has scored a lot of big projects, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants, during his term that has allowed this sustained spending of this political culture to go unreformed. And that has protected the leadership in this state."
Murphy listed some of the cash and projects that flowed into Chicago and the rest of Illinois thanks to Obama's influence in Washington. These include plans for the Obama Presidential Center between 60th and 63rd streets on the western edge of Jackson Park and the $1.1 billion provided to the Chicago Transit Authority. The latter was announced only days before Obama left office.
Obama's influence in Washington coincided with, and propped up, Chicago politics over the same eight years, Murphy said. This included the administrations of Patrick Quinn, Illinois' governor from 2009 to 2015; longtime Illinois State House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago); and Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago's mayor, elected to a second term in 2015.
"All these projects and grants allowed Quinn, Madigan, Rahm Emanuel to just keep the gears greased and perpetuate the culture, in my view," Murphy said. "And that has really been the Obama connection in Chicago."
Born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama first moved to Chicago in 1985, having studied at Occidental College in Los Angeles and Columbia University in New York City, earning a degree in political science.
Obama worked as a community organizer in the South Side, mostly in Roseland and Altgeld Gardens; joined Trinity United Church of Christ; and, in 1988, joined the Chicago law firm of Sidley Austin where he met another aspiring attorney, Michelle Robinson. They dated while Obama continued to study law.
In 1990, Obama became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law in 1991. He and Michelle Robinson married the following year and moved to the Kenwood neighborhood.
Obama took up practice as a civil rights lawyer with Miner, Barnhill & Galland and also taught part-time at the University of Chicago Law School until 2004. He helped organize voter registration drives during the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton.
In 1996, Obama won election to the Illinois State Senate, where he later served as chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. In 2000, he made an unsuccessful Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives seat of Bobby Rush but won a U.S. Senate seat in 2004. In 2008, he won the first of two terms as president of the United States.
Then outgoing President Obama gave his final farewell speech on Jan. 10 at McCormick Place, an event that was free and open to the public.
"This is where his roots are; this is where his biggest support is," 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore told a Chicago area reporter.
Moore's statement was true enough, but Obama's adopted hometown has also become the place where change never came.
Meanwhile, Chicagoans have suffered skyrocketing crime rates; city government's poor fiscal and budgetary policies; poorly funded pension issues in its public schools; as well as various other problems during the last eight years, Murphy said.
"It has gone completely downhill during his presidency and under Rahm Emanuel in particular," Murphy said. "He allowed them to continue in this system. The thing about Rahm Emanuel – and Republicans have been saying this, as well – you want him because he's got the connections, he knows everybody and he can bring more into Chicago. Well, it didn't force through the reforms that were really needed in the city of Chicago and the state."