How Obama piled up that record in the Illinois state senate





[I]n 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government. For the first time in 26 years, Illinois Democrats controlled the governor's office as well as both legislative chambers.

The white, race-baiting, hard-right Republican Illinois Senate Majority Leader James "Pate" Philip was replaced by Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor.

Jones had served in the Illinois Legislature for three decades. He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama's. He became Obama's kingmaker.

Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio program.

I called Kelley last week and he recollected the private conversation as follows:

"He said, 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"

"Oh, you are? Who might that be?"

"Barack Obama."

Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.

"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen," State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. "Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.

"I don't consider it bill jacking," Hendon told me. "But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book."

During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama's stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.

It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn't have done it without Jones.


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Dan J. Herman - 3/5/2008

I read this piece under the title "My Drama with Obama" in the Dallas Observer last week. It's well written but it is preposterously one-sided. Spivak says that the Obama people wouldn't call him back to respond ... well, why not? Dude, you don't suppose it was because you had already shown that you would ax the man, as for instance in your earlier piece, the one that caused Obama to call you and yell? Do you suppose that maybe Obama had figured out that you have a big chip on your shoulder, that you resent him, that you have nothing good to say?

I doubt it was hard to find a few cranky legislators and activists in Chicago who were jealous that Obama had more talent and got more credit than they did, and angry that he wasn't breathing fire at the man.

But whatever that says, it does not make the case that Obama was, as you suggest, created by a "kingmaker." Did you consider that Obama's talent was DISCOVERED, not created, by Emil Jones?? Can it be that Obama was a great political weapon for Jones to wield? That maybe Obama made Jones and the Democrats look good rather than vice versa? That Obama was correct in telling you that those bills would not have passed had he not sponsored them?

And can you perhaps find some other Democrats, or Republicans, from the Illinois legislature who might have a more objective take on Obama's role?

I don't know anything about the author of the article but I suspect he realized, like any two-bit ambitious journalist, that a hit piece does one's career FAR more good than a glam piece. This will get noticed! I savaged Obama!

Good work, my friend, as John McCain might say to Mr. Spivak.


Tim Lacy - 3/4/2008

Much ado about nothing. How much have Senators McCain and Clinton been helped by their friends in the U.S. Senate? How much in their early careers if not lately? - TL