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Spivak and Obama

Thursday, Feb 28, 2008

* This Houston Press article by former Illinois weekly newspaper reporter Todd Spivak is gaining some notoriety on the Intertubes today. The lede centers on how Barack Obama was upset at an article Spivak had written years ago for the Illinois Times…

It’s not quite eight in the morning and Barack Obama is on the phone screaming at me. He liked the story I wrote about him a couple weeks ago, but not this garbage.

* The IT story in question is still online. The basic premise is that some of Obama’s fellow African-American legislators didn’t care for him much (which is accurate) and a few didn’t support his US Senate campaign (also accurate), and that Obama didn’t start winning the black vote until Blair Hull was essentially knocked out of contention (grossly misleading)…

But in the weeks leading up to the election, back when multi-millionaire candidate Blair Hull led the pack of six candidates, polls showed a mere one-third of African-American voters had decided on Obama. It wasn’t until Hull’s campaign imploded, after revelations of a contentious divorce, that Obama’s ambition to become the Senate’s lone black member was dubbed a historic movement.

The IT piece completely ignored the history of how black votes tend to break late. Hull’s implosion had far less to do with Obama picking up black votes than Obama’s wooing of white Chicago-area voters, who were repulsed by the allegations against the newly disgraced millionaire and attracted to Obama’s TV ads.

* But Spivak’s Illinois Times story does cover some ground that reporters in the far more recent past have tried without success to retrace. Black state legislators were much more open with their criticisms back then than they are today, now that Obama is in the hunt for the presidency…

State Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, the original Senate sponsor of both the racial profiling and videotaped confession bills, likewise felt overshadowed by Obama.

“I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen,” says Hendon. “Barack didn’t have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit. […]

“I didn’t get swept up in any movement,” says Lou Jones. “A ‘movement’ didn’t even exist until a week before the election, when the media played it that way.”

Hendon agrees, saying, “There was no real movement. Barack’s no Dr. King or Harold Washington.”

The IT piece is worth a read just for those quotes. Earlier this month, Sen. Hendon was passing out t-shirts with a photo of himself and Obama and the slogan: “Yes, We Can!” Rep. Monique Davis, who was also critical of Obama in that long-ago piece, said nothing but nice things about the man on the campaign trail this year.

* More from today’s Houston Press article

The morning after the story was posted online, I arrived early at my new offices. I hadn’t taken my coat off when the phone rang. It was Obama.

The [IT] article began, “It can be painful to hear Ivy League-bred Barack Obama talk jive.”

Obama told me he doesn’t speak jive, that he doesn’t say the words “homeboy” or “peeps.”

It seemed so silly; I thought for sure he was joking. He wasn’t.

He said the black legislators I cited in the story were off-base, and that they couldn’t have gotten the bills passed without him.

I started to speak, and he shouted me down.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 10:57 am:

    Should the Spivak article suprise us? NO, he’s like most so called journalists who write half truths just to get a reaction. As you point out, the IT article had several “mis-leading” points. Thats hoe Spivak and others write, throw out the halftruths in print and see what sticks. Pathetic. He makes Bernie look like a Pulitzer prize winner.

  2. - anonymous2 - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:11 am:

    Anonymous has it right. Todd Spivak and the Illinois Times only want to stir up the pot, without verifying the information they use. Barack Obama was absolutely right in calling Spivak on the carpet for inaccuracies in his story. The Illinois Times has never let the facts get in the way of a story. After all, there is a reason the paper is free.

  3. - Chicago Cynic - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:11 am:

    Well that’s one view of the article. What’s funny is that most of us who knew Barack knew him to be smart, good intentioned and a fairly good legislator. But we also know he is not somebody above politics.

    On the contrary - he’s a politician steeped in the system from which he was raised who first came to office by knocking his mentor off the ballot in what strikes many to be very old school politics. So while we may support Barack and think he might be a good president, the second coming he is not.

  4. - Skeeter - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:13 am:

    Being ripped by Ricky Hendon?
    Sounds like high praise to me.

  5. - wordslinger - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:23 am:

    When Harold Washington ran against Byrne and Daley, plenty of Black officeholders went with Byrne. After his death, there was no shortage of those falsely claiming to have been there from the beginning.

  6. - Moderate REpub - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:29 am:

    That was great article, and from seeing Obama’s tenure under the dome, is sounds pretty close to accurate. I am sure a lot of people will recall the last night of session the first year of Emils tenure, when Obama and a couple african american legislators got into a scuffle. Trotter ended up pushing Obama into the restroom on the senate floor. FOr insiders, it provided a lot of fodder if nothering else to talk about after a long session.

    Back to the article, I thought it showed Obamas moral conflict he has to be having with rising in a system you have vocally opposed for so long. Hopefully, and probably, with the idea in his head that he will use the system now to get to the top to change it. I am am sure that is the justification that has been going on in his head since he used the old boys system to knock off his supposed mentor, and who am I to say that he isn’t right?

    As much as he really scares me with his views on foreign policy, socialized health care, and taking what some are saying as half of my WELL earned pay check to pay for it, I think he is well intentioned in almost everything he does. Everyone’s morality would shift, twist and even change under the path Senator Obama has walked, or ran since he left the Illinois legislature. He is the one that says he can bring together folks for compromise, isn’t that what we are seeing in his rise to the national front, the compromising of his beliefs? A single Act (or couple) of questionable decisions to create a better world for the whole? Like I said, who am I to say hes wrong.

  7. - Anonymous45 - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:36 am:

    you took the words right out of my mouth Skeeter-Hendon is just envious of the pedigree Obama has that he is sorely lacking…”Ricky” is also still at the beck and call of their mutual mentor Pres. Jones…sour grapes

  8. - bored now - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:43 am:

    i’m shocked, shocked i tell you, that a politician ripped a reporter for perceived inaccuracies! my gawd! who woulda thunk it?

    i’m also completely surprised that rickey hendon would be complain about emil’s giving bills to obama. or not. obama got them passed; we have no idea if hendon could have. and it’s no wonder that jones would want obama being the public face of these bills. you never know what hendon would have said or done when he got the spotlight.

    as for cynic’s view that barack is just another chicago pol, the reality seems far more nuanced to me. barack has been aggressive about using the system when he thought it would help him, and equally aggressive in bucking the system when he thought it stood in his way. that battle over the ivi endorsement for the 2004 senate race illustrated this. but his career is much more internally consistent than it seems cynic wants to give credit for…

  9. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 11:48 am:

    Also, how ironic is it that Jones gave Hendon the sponsorship of the CTA bailout bill right before the final vote because Hendon had two well-financed primary opponents?

  10. - Rob_N - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 12:14 pm:

    Obama has a spine… This is news?

    Spivak seems to be trying to make a name for himself with his “What I did in my Illinois years” piece. I don’t know him and don’t recall his work when he was in Illinois… is he like that?

  11. - Jon Shibley Fan - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 12:15 pm:

    bored, were you at the IVI session? It was something to see, was it not?

  12. - Pat collins - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 12:42 pm:

    People jumping on bandwagon? When it looks like it will win? Surely not….

    You know, if they want quotes, they should go after the time he ran for Congress. If you want an obnoxious take, look at how Newsweek put it.

  13. - bored now - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 12:48 pm:

    i was, and it was. taught me everything i needed to know about chicago politics. and, rich, i agree, it was very “ironic.” i did miss where he complained about it (i’m sure he “took it away” from someone who had “advanced the ball 99 yards down the field”)…

  14. - Norman - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 1:22 pm:

    Honestly, if this is all the media’s gonna through at Obama he’ll walk to a win in November.

  15. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 1:24 pm:

    Most of the black legislators in Springfield when Obama arrived were a sorry lot. It surprised no one to see them turn on a person of real character. Now that he’s famous, they say nice things about him. He didn’t change, and neither did they; they’re still a sorry lot, but remain dishonest enough to blow with the winds.

  16. - Ramsin - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 2:20 pm:

    Gasp! Senator Obama is a politician! OH NO!

    The only thing stupider than people pretending its shocking, damning news that the guy maneuvered politically when he was in local and state politics are those minority of his supporters who think that just pointing that out is tantamount to heterodox heresy. C’mon people. The guy’s running for President, not Cesar Chavez 2.0.

    And–Anonymous 1:24pm uh…you realize how ignorant you sound, right? Are you saying that Barack Obama was the first black legislator with character in Springfield?

  17. - Not Surprised - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 2:41 pm:

    It was interesting to see the quote by the late Lou Jones. I was in her office one session and was surprised to hear her reference Obama as Osama to another member of the Black Caucus.

    As to the dust-up between Obama and Trotter, was that before or after they both ran against Bobby Rush in the Democratic primary a few years ago?

  18. - chiatty - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 3:36 pm:

    The Black Caucus was a rather lame lot when Obama first hit Springpatch. It took him a very short time to stand out as different from all of the other legislators, both black and white. He was clearly smart, clearly engaged and clearly going places. This article is just another example of the paucity of dirt on Obama. There just isn’t enough to move voters away from him. Final point, the obervers who noted that there was no “movement” except that which was painted by the media are correct, in the main, but there is no doubt that Obama closed late and closed huge. I was with him four days before the primary and he told me that his internal polls had him up 20 points. He was shocked. And happy. Me, too.

  19. - Anonymous - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 4:20 pm:

    Anon 1:24 pm’s response to Ramsin. No, Obama was the third. Harold Washington was the first, Carol Moseley Braun was the second (before she ran off the tracks. . . )

  20. - Rob_N - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 5:04 pm:


    Realizing that perception is reality and your points are what many folks perceive to be “reality”, Sen. Moseley Braun didn’t actually “run off the tracks.”

    Karl Rove did a masterful job of promoting every flimsy bit of malarkey he could find against her and turning molehills into mountains — something for which she was clearly unprepared. All of her “issues” turned out to be benign and innocent events.

  21. - emg1959 - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 5:19 pm:

    FINALLY, an indepth article that tell me who and what he stands for. In a race for the highest postion in America finally we know something about him besides from his flowery, moving and inspiring speeches.

  22. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 5:25 pm:

    emg1959, please. I know you’re from out of state, but there’s almost nothing new in that Houston article. The IT article had the black legislators stuff, but little else that’s different.

  23. - NoGiftsPlease - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 7:38 pm:

    You can’t become an Illinois legislator without being a politician, which is good. When he’s President, he’s going to have to work with a lot of other politicians and will have to have the political skills to do it. From what I’ve seen, he’s a healthy mix of inspiration and political skills. He said himself that he knew how to participate in rough-and-tumble politics.

  24. - On the wagon... - Thursday, Feb 28, 08 @ 8:56 pm:

    It is funny how the African American Legislators who vigorously opposed Barack because they felt he overshadowed them are now on the wagon or is it off the wagon. The number one bandwagoneer is Monique Davis, who worked against Barack and supported Dan Hynes (19th Warder) over an African American, all because she felt that she was’nt shown respect. Please, she has got to go and I am sorry that she is back in town.

  25. - VanillaMan - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:17 am:

    It is a good article and an average presidential candidate should have no concerns over it.

    He sounds like someone who would vote for Obama, but doesn’t drink his Kool-Aid.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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