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October 23rd, 2017

Insight

Illinois State Senator Barack Obama's 'Urban Agenda'

Larry Elder

By Larry Elder

Published May 14, 2015

  Illinois State Senator Barack Obama's 'Urban Agenda'

After the recent Baltimore riots, left-wing critics accused President Barack Obama of lacking an "urban agenda." Critics like PBS's hard lefty Tavis Smiley said: "What do we see in Baltimore and Ferguson and beyond? Racism, poverty and militarism. And so poverty is clearly connected to this. My sense is that this is going to become the new normal. These kinds of uprisings and riots are going to happen a lot more if we can't get serious about jobs, jobs, jobs with a living wage for all fellow citizens. ...

"My problem with the President so far, respectfully, is that he has had a sort of 'hands off' approach to a 'hands up' crisis, and I don't think that's the answer to the prayer, either. ... When you have police killings that are on the rise ... for me, that's a problem; that's a pandemic. I think that our leaders ought to call a state of emergency ... from the President on down. We can then, I think, get a real conversation about police accountability, about civilian oversight and, again, about jobs for fellow citizens."

Black Princeton professor Dr. Cornel West said of Obama: "Maybe he couldn't do that much. But at least tell the truth. I would rather have a white president fundamentally dedicated to eradicating poverty and enhancing the plight of working people than a black president tied to Wall Street and drones."

But as a local Illinois lawmaker, then-state Sen. Barack Obama did, in fact, enact an "urban" agenda on education and housing.

Bill Ayers, the former fugitive and still unrepentant domestic terrorist/member of the Weather Underground turned educator, founded the Chicago Annenberg Challenge with a $50 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. Just three years out of law school, Obama chaired the newly formed CAC board from 1995 to 1999, spending millions to "improve" Chicago public schools. In all, CAC distributed more than $100 million from 1995 to 2001 to improve Chicago schools.

Rather than fund the schools directly, Ayers required schools to work with "external partners," who focused on political radicalism. "External partners" that focused on math or science were turned down. The CAC instead funded groups like the far-left Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now or the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange, which focused on Afrocentricity, anti-capitalism, political consciousness and bilingualism.

After six years, what did the CAC achieve? By its own assessment, the money was wasted. Their report said: "There were no statistically significant differences in student achievement between Annenberg schools and demographically similar non-Annenberg schools. This indicates that there was no Annenberg effect on achievement."

What about housing? Surely Illinois state Sen. Obama has something to show for his public-private partnership agenda to improve public housing? During his eight-year service in the state house, from 1997 through 2004, Obama co-wrote a state law pooling tax credits for development projects. Then and current adviser Valerie Jarrett served as the chief executive of Habitat Company, which managed a project called Grove Parc Plaza from 2001 to 2008.

Grove Parc Plaza, a renamed redevelopment of an older housing project, was opened in 1990 with a new owner, with funding from the federal government. A private management firm was hired to oversee the property, which lay in state Sen. Obama's district. After losing the contract in 2001 to Habitat, the head of the original management company was convicted of embezzling $1 million in management fees.

Residents complained about deteriorating conditions. By 2006, after repeated warnings, federal inspectors found conditions so bad and repairs so minimal they moved to seize Grove Parc, later demolishing it.

Similarly, Rezmar Corp., cofounded in 1989 by Tony Rezko, used more than $87 million in government grants, loan and credits over the next nine years to renovate and manage 1,000 apartments in 30 Chicago buildings — 11 of them in Obama's district. Residents complained of rats, insect infestations, no heat, leaking windows and piles of trash. By the time Obama entered the state Senate, buildings were deteriorating and Chicago was suing Rezmar for various violations.

Rezmar got out of the subsidized housing game and — apparently with plenty still left in their bank account — got into high-end developments. Rezko, the Obama friend and political supporter who helped the Obamas purchase their Chicago home in 2005, was indicted in 2006 on federal charges of wire fraud, bribery, money laundering and attempted extortion. He was ultimately convicted on 16 charges and received a 10 1/2-year sentence.

So to his left-wing critics, Obama could legitimately say that as a local lawmaker, he did implement his urban agenda on housing and education. That agenda was simple: spend more taxpayer money. Never mind that America already spends more money, K-12, than all but Switzerland, Norway and Luxembourg. Unless families embrace and emphasize education, spending more just wastes taxpayer money. As to housing, that's the private sector's job. The real lesson of the Wall Street-housing meltdown is that government never should have been in the housing business.

But, no, let's spend more, no matter the outcome.

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Larry Elder is a best-selling author and radio talk-show host.

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