Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Obama & Slumlord Rezko: The Money & Political Ties Are Years Old And Deep in Poverty Scandals

For generations, Chicago politics have been believed by many to be among the dirtiest in the nation. Given the nature of politics, deciding who's the prettiest in the mud rasslin' contests is not a thing of beauty. But as the campaign flows on, one element is being hosed away: Barack Obama's attempt to present himself as totally pure in his associations and backers.

Not only did Obama legally represent a portion of Tony Rezko's slum landlord business, but amazingly enough, Rezko and Obama bought side-by-side properties (including Obama's mansion) a few years ago. Obama's rise from novice senator to Democratic front runner took more than one good speech to fuel--it took money. Lots of money. And Rezko provided it, while low-income tenants in his projects went without heat in brutal Chicago winters.

Obama, who's saavy enough to handle Chicago politics, clearly could figure out renewal projects that didn't quite "renew." The Rezko problems were long-term and well-publicized, but Obama seems to have missed them.

As Tim Novak reports in an excellent investigative piece for the Chicago Sun-Times:

"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.

Obama, who has worked as a lawyer and a legislator to improve living conditions for the poor, took campaign donations from Rezko even as Rezko's low-income housing empire was collapsing, leaving many African-American families in buildings riddled with problems -- including squalid living conditions, vacant apartments, lack of heat, squatters and drug dealers."

Novak also summarized some squalid details of Rezko urban renewal projects:

"Rezko and Mahru also managed the buildings, which were supposed to provide homes for poor people for 30 years. Every one of the projects ran into trouble:

• Seventeen buildings -- many beset with code violations, including a lack of heat -- ended up in foreclosure.

• Six buildings are currently boarded up.

• Hundreds of the apartments are vacant, in need of major repairs.

• Taxpayers have been stuck with millions in unpaid loans.

• At least a dozen times, the city of Chicago sued Rezmar for failure to heat buildings. "

The government has filed numerous charges against the Syrian-born Rezko. Arrested this week on bond violation, he faces faces serious jail time if convicted of attempted extortion, money laundering, and fraud.

Obama's ties to Rezko run deeper than the "just another contributor" story he's floating. In fact, you could call Obama a Rezko supporter. In Obama wrote several letters supporting Rezko's Cottage View Terrace projects for low-income senior citizens. Taxpayers funded the Obama-endorsed projects for more than $14 million.

Although Obama says he's given all "identified" Rezko campaign contributions to charity, the taint lingers. Now it's been revealed that while Rezko was claiming poverty, he was getting millions from a secretive investor identified as an Iraqi millionaire. Why would someone from the Middle East invest in an indicted Syrian businessman now in jail?

One Arab-American blogger claims that Rezko's problems are caused by "the media bias against Arab Americans.....Arab American businessmen make easy targets for criticism and attacks." The freezing low-income apartments, Ray Hanania declared, were "livable residences." He speaks of Rezko's generosity, including "Rezko has a long history of supporting Arab American causes." Then why didn't his "generosity" extend to maintaining the low-income project housing as he contracted to do?

Now fast-forward to the Hillary Clinton snub that Obama denies at President Bush's State of the Union speech. In South Carolina, Clinton scored a solid hit on Obama as she brought up his business ties to Rezko, sparking real anger in Obama's eyes and voice.

With Bill Clinton acting as wife Hillary's Obama hit man, the Democratic campaign has turned into a real brawl. Obama's "Far Above the Madding Crowd" noble pose is getting scraped thin.

As Desi would say to Lucy: Obama, you got a lot of 'splaining to do. Start with how you missed Rezko's shenanigans (if you did, especially as you were one of his partners' lawyers) and if so, how that translates to being able to identify international shenanigans if you become president. And if you didn't somehow overlook Rezko's problems, then tell us why you went out of your way as a U.S. Senator, to support him.

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