Obama is not a Chicago machine politician
Grand County, Colorado
Reading letters to the editor, it appears some people in Grand County assume President-elect Barack Obama is a de facto member of machine politics simply because he is a Democrat from Chicago.
The writers need to become more familiar with Obama’s political history. His initial political experience was as a community organizer on Chicago’s South Side.
Community organizers by nature are anti-political establishment; they are for change and reform and there are some good examples of the work community organizers do in Colorado and Grand County.
Community organizing requires a leader or leaders, either paid or volunteer, to make the telephone calls, to groom leadership, to organize the meetings, and to articulate the concerns on behalf of those who are not articulate.
Obama was hired straight out of college by South Side Chicago churches to organize the community devastated by steel mill closures that left many jobless and neighborhoods in decay. The Chicago political machine had ignored their problems.
He spent three years learning the ropes and he realized he needed a law school education and different political techniques to be successful.
After finishing law school and becoming a civil rights attorney, Obama returned to South Side Chicago politics. He was no ward heeler rewarded for good political behavior. He took on a five-term state senator who had developed her political base/machine and he beat her to win a seat in the state Legislature. How? He disqualified all of his opponents by successfully challenging their petitions.
He tried again in 2000 to unseat a popular congressman and failed, garnering only 30 percent of the vote. In each campaign, he learned from mistakes and became a savvy practitioner of hard ball politics. Two years later, taking advantage of a dearth of candidates, he won his U.S. Senate seat, formulating the familiar themes repeated in the presidential campaign. He leaped onto the national stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, leaving an indelible impression with his message and charisma.
Obama developed a disdain for politicians who look on politics as a business. This December, in commenting on the Gov. Rod Blagojevich mess, he made an observation about politics in Illinois that is very revealing: “Here in Illinois ” as is true, I think, across the country ” there is a tradition of public service, where people are getting in it for the right reasons and to serve. But there’s also a tradition where people view politics as a business.” When he was in the state Legislature his most notable success was campaign finance reform designed to reduce the influence of lobbyists and machine politicians.
Once Obama was perceived as up and coming, some politicos supported him and he had no qualms about accepting their help, including receiving some donations from Tony Rezko, money he later returned. Big bucks flowed his way, but only after he had won the nomination for president. He also tapped Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Jr.’s campaign consultant, David Axelrod, for his Senate and presidential race, but his political career was not begun by a machine nor was he ever beholden to one for his success.
Obama avoided relying upon political machines for contributions and for turning out supporters. He funded his presidential primary campaign from a million and a half small donors by using the Internet. Use of community organizing techniques are also credited for Obama winning nearly all of the caucus states in the presidential primaries.
There are some examples of successful community organizing in Colorado and Grand County. In the early 1970s, Denver housewives conducted grocery price surveys to demonstrate factually that the poor paid more. The major grocery store chains changed their pricing modus.
Denver air pollution was severe in the ’70s. The automobile was the only viable means of transportation, spewing out CO2 and NOX. A citizen-based organization, Plan Metro Denver, organized a petition drive to defeat the building of car parking garages, demonstrated that mass transportation was worthy of public funding as an alternative, and provided the initial outline for the park and ride system, mass transit corridors, and the conversion of Union Station as transit hub. The machine type mayor, Bill McNichols, was defeated in 1983 by Federico Pena, who, like Obama, was a civil rights attorney with vision and who asked Denver to imagine a great city.
He and subsequent mayors embraced and implemented the same concepts as originally outlined by Plan Metro Denver.
In Grand County, more than 100 Fraser citizens turned out on a cold night several years ago to put pressure on the town board to save the Maryvale Meadow from plans to build a housing development surrounding a golf course. The same group called in the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. About 80 percent of the meadow wetlands have been preserved. While not a 100 percent win, a significant part of the meadow remains as open space in Grand Park.
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