What do you know about the allegations relating to Ayers and the real estate guy? I have a friend who wants to vote for Obama but is a little uncomfortable with the things he's heard. Love, Mom.Well, mom, here's what I know:
Bill Ayers: Ayers was a true 60's radical. He was prominent in the SDS, and followed his convictions to the extreme, eventually coming to the conclusion that the government's actions in Vietnam needed to be stopped and that the only language the Gov't would understand was violence. This conviction led to a schism with the SDS leading to the formation of the "Weather Underground." Ayers was co-founder.
During his time as a leader of the WU, Ayers participated in many street fights with the police and later in at least 3 bombings of US government buildings: the NYC polic headquarters building, the US Capitol and the Pentagon. No one was hurt in any of the bombings, though a water leak caused in the pentagon indicident did halt hight altitude bombing in Vietnam for 2 weeks.
Ayers had decided to turn himself in in the late '70s, but his wife and co-conspirator was not--she was pregnant and wanted to give birth. As a result of the COINTELPRO investigation through the Church Committee, the charges against him were dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Since his days as a radical, Ayers has become, in the words of the prosecutor in those cases, "a responsible citizen." Since his student days he was interested in education and education reform. He currently holds a PhD in education and teaches at the University of Chicago, where he holds the title of "Distinguished Professor."
Ayers and Obama: There are three main contact points between Ayers and Obama.
1. Hyde Park. The Obamas and the Ayers both live in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. Obama's political career was launched by Deborah Leff nominated him to head the board of the Joyce Foundation. In that role he came to the attention of then-state Senator Alice Palmer, who eventually gave her blessing for Obama to run to succeed her. Ayers' home was the site of a meet-the-candidate reception, attended by the political players of Hyde Park, of which Ayers was one. Palmer also attended. Ayers did not serve on Obama's campaign (then or now), nor has he ever been in an advisory role to Obama.
2. The Woods Fund of Chicago. The Woods fund is an anti-poverty organization. This is its mission statement: "a grantmaking foundation whose goal is to increase opportunities for less advantaged people and communities in the metropolitan area, including the opportunity to shape decisions affecting them. The foundation works primarily as a funding partner with nonprofit organizations. Woods supports nonprofits in their important roles of engaging people in civic life, addressing the causes of poverty and other challenges facing the region, promoting more effective public policies, reducing racism and other barriers to equal opportunity, and building a sense of community and common ground." Bill Ayers and Barack Obama served on that board together from 1999 to 2002. Ayers was there in his capacity as a professor of education; Obama in his capacity as state senator and professor of law.
3. The Annenberg Challenge Foundation. The ACF was founded with a $50million matching grant from former Nixon employee and friend-of-Ron (Reagan), billionaire Walter Annenberg. Though he is now dead, Annenberg is survived by his wife, a major McCain contributor. The goal of the grant program was to reform America's public schools, which, by Annenberg's lights, must be improved "or our civilzation will collapse." There were three primary grant-writers who brought the grant money to Chicagor; William Ayers, a member of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, was one of them. Ayers would continue to serve in the operational arm of the ACF, using his expertise in education reform to help the ACF allocate its funds through local work. Obama served on the board of directors from 1995-2001. His bio when he was appointed read: "civil rights attorney at Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland; lecturer at theUniversity of Chicago Law School; member of the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation and the Woods Fund of Chicago; winner, Crain's Chicago Business 40 Under 40 award, 1993; former president of the Harvard Law Review (1990–1991); former executive director of the Developing Communities Project (June 1985–May 1988)."
Ayers has been defended--though always with caveats about his misspent youth--by officials and educators in Chicago for his work with the ACF. In late May 2008, Michael Kinsley, a persistent Ayers-hater, stated the following in Time Magazine: "If Obama's relationship with Ayers, however tangential, exposes Obama as a radical himself, or at least as a man with terrible judgment, he shares that radicalism or terrible judgment with a comically respectable list of Chicagoans and others — including Republicans and conservatives — who have embraced Ayers and Dohrn as good company, good citizens, even experts on children's issues...Ayers and Dohrn are despicable, and yet making an issue of Obama's relationship with them is absurd."
Here is a good NYTimes article on their association: Obama and a 60's Bomber -- A Look Into Crossed Paths.
Tony Rezko (the real-estate guy). Less has been made about this recently, but it was a big deal during the primary. Rezko, who has been convicted of fraud, was a big-time political fundraiser for Chicago democrats for almost 25 years, and for Obama's senate campaign beginning in 2003. In all, probably close to $250,000 came into Obama's senate campaign through Rezko--either people he tapped or people who he was at one remove from. The Obama's also bought a house from the same seller from whom Mrs.Tony Rezko purchased a plot of land and on the same day (a condition of the seller's). There was nothing untoward in the sale: Obama's offer was the highest offer on the table and the rate on the Obama's mortgage was good, but normal for an A+ credit risk--which the Obama's certainly were.
Obama later bought a strip of land from the parcel owned by the Rezkos for twice its assessed value. Some critics have said this was a favor to Obama on Rezko's part, as it made Rezko's land less salable. On the other hand, it has been argued that Obama's overpay was a favor to Rezko. The most reasonable conclusion, in my mind, is that the price was set higher than assessed value to compensate the Rezko's for that loss of saleability. Obama has since acknowledged that the creation of the appearance of impropriety as a result of this deal was a mistake.
Prior to his association with Rezko, in 1997 Obama advocated for a low-income housing project that was awarded to Rezko. Rezko, as a developer, made his fee out of that deal--which was a large amount of money.
If Rezko's conviction for fraud and influence peddling taints Obama, it taints many other people as well. In addition to Obama and former Illinois Governor Blagojevich, prominent Democrats that Rezko and his company, Rezmar, have contributed money to, or fund-raised for, are Comptroller Dan Hynes, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, former Chicago Mayors Daley and Washington, and former Cook County Board President John Stroger. Rezko has also raised money for Republicans: former Illinois Governors Jim Edgar and George Ryan, the late Rosemont, Illinois Mayor Donald Stephens and he co-chaired a multimillion-dollar fund-raiser for President George W. Bush in 2003.
In spite of the flurry of press this association has generated, and the investigative reporting done by the Chicago papers, no credible evidence exists to show that either Rezko or Obama has benefited from their relationship in any illegitimate fashion. Obama's campaigns were not subjects of the law-breaking Rezko was convicted for, and there is no evidence that he or his clients benefited from Obama's office in any untoward or unethical way.
A couple of asides: Both of these "issues," while peddled on right-wing talk radio for a while, only rose to prominence once Hillary Clinton chose to give them a veneer of legitimacy by making them the centerpiece of her campaign for the nomination. Second, while these associations may cast an ephemeral pall over Obama, they are part of the miasma that surrounds any politician. Governance is the art of walking the narrow path between the venal, the greedy, and the corrupt in order to accomplish good things for under-financed people (that would be us). A politician who doesn't know anyone questionable is not going to be around for long because questionable people suffuse the halls of power. The relationship with Ayers, such as it is, hardly qualifies given the setting. The relationship with Rezko is an equal-opportunity stain. It's not like Obama went on high-toned family vacations with the guy at his expense and on his jet (see McCain/Keating). It's guilt by association at best.
Hope this helps.