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The Obama Chronicles: Waukegan interview transcript. On Rezko, mistakes and being held to a high standard.


After a month long blitz--selling his new book, stumping for Democrats, testing the water for a 2008 presidential run, Sen. Barack Obama on Monday traveled to Waukegan, Ill. to stump for a House candidate. He found himself answering questions about a real estate deal he made with a local shady developer named Tony Rezko. Rezko was recently indicted on corruption charges.

Obama, on the road to the White House, will have to run in the primary of public perception, just like his rivals and the Rezko episode is at the least a learning experience for him.

Obama, in a session with local reporters said "I'm human like everybody else and I'm going to make mistakes."

click below for excerpt of the question and answer session at the Waukegan airport.
(for full background read Sunday's Sun-Times story by Chris Fusco, Dave McKinney and Mark Brown at

excerpts from the Waukegan question and answer session. ....

What in the world were you doing in a real estate deal with Tony Rezko?

Look, I bought a house. He bought a piece of property next to the house, and that transaction was entirely separate. But what is true is I purchased a 10-foot strip alongside that property from him, and although I paid more than the appraised value of the house, I think it's fair to say that, given some of the issues that were going on with him, it certainly raised the kinds of appearances that I should have been mindful of.

Why'd you do it then?

For the last 10 years, I think people who have worked with me know that I try to maintain the highest standards in how I deal in my personal and public lives. I don't accept lunches with lobbyists. If I play golf with somebody I reimburse them. In this situation, my focus was more on making sure I was paying a fair market price and not thinking through sort of how it potentially would appear. As I said in the newspaper it was a mistake. Not one of my smarter moves.

Did you recruit Tony becuase you needed him. . . . It sounded like you were only going to get (your house) if you had somebody buying the other lot?

No, no, no. I didn't recruit Tony. What happened was I saw this house. . . . We went through our real estate broker. And We put in a bid on the house the way any other purchaser would. The adjoining lot., there was already a bid on that lot. The sellers were the ones who had separated them, and Mr. Rezko became interested in that other lot, and he bid for that lot separately and negotiated with the seller separately.

Did you pay $300,000 less because of connections or clout, or anything Rezko did?

No. Nothing at all related to the purchase of my house involved Rezko. . . . The adjoining lot had already gotten an offer for the list price, which was 600-something-thousand. So the seller already had that in hand. The problem was they needed to sell the house. They were moving, and, so, this was to some degree a fire sale situation for them. They had gotten a new job. They were moving to Maryland. And so they needed to sell the house. That's the reason, as is true in any real estate market, if somebody needs to sell then you've got a little more leverage over them.

So there was no involvement with Rezko in the purchase of the house. . . .

Q: How did it happen that Tony just so bought the lot next to your home?

What happened was . . . Rezko's been a longtime developer in Kenwood. He's got property all across the Kenwood area. When the house came on the market, I asked a number of people about the house because I've never bought a house. I'd owned a condo. And I called a number of friends -- four or five friends -- who either had homes in Kenwood or were familiar with development in Kenwood. Rezko was one of those people. It turned out that the person who had renovated the house which I was interested in purchasing had worked with Rezko in the past, so that was the connection. He [Rezko] ended up looking at the property and became interested in it. But as I said it was negotiated entirely separately. It wasn't something that we were coordinating in any sort of fashion.

The reason we ended up having the same closing date -- that was actually a requirement of the sellers' because the seller was trying to . . . they had conditioned the sale of one lot on the sale of the house.

What do you say to people that your judgment is faulty?

I'm human like everybody else and I'm going to make mistakes. One of the things that I've prided myself on is when I make a mistake, I own up to it. . . . Although I made a mistake in terms of not being attentive to appearances, in terms of the actual transactions themselves, there was no quid pro quo, there was no clout involved. . . . The problem here was you had somebody who was doing state business, who had been a contributor of mine. While I paid more than the appraised value, it's understandable people . . .

Did you know he was under investigation at that point?

Obviously, things had surfaced. But this is somebody I had known for quite some time. He had never asked me for anything. I'd never done anything for him. We had never discussed government issues. But, look, I think it's fair to hold me to a higher standard. And I understand, at this point, I have been in the public eye quite a bit. I'm somebody who's taken the lead both in Springfield and at the federal level on ethics issues, and I think it's entirely appropriate for folks to expect more. . . .

Was the person you were bidding against for your property the same person Rezko was bidding against?

No. No.

How do you know that?

Well, I don't know it for certain, but I don't think so because my broker did not indicate they were the same party.

So there's no way -- either directly or indirectly -- that you knew how much money Tony was offering for his property?

I had no idea whatsoever.

Did you coordinate your bids?


Why did Tony end up paying full price if it were such a fire sale?

There were two separate lots. [On the first lot], there was already a bid for the full price. They already had a bid on the table for that full price.

What have you learned from this?

One of the things that I've always prided on myself is the fact that I have never had any questions about my integrity and how I conduct myself in public office. . . . This is the first time this has happened, and I don't like the feeling. It's frustrating to me, and I'm kicking myself about it. But, as I said, look, I'm going to make some mistakes every once in a while. These aren't mistakes that involve the public trust. They aren't mistakes that involved my responsibilities in terms of representing my constituents. But, one of the things you purchase when you enter into public life is there are going to be a different set of standards, and I'm going to make sure from this point on I don't even come close to the line.

Will this come back to haunt you?

I'm in politics, so anytime you make an error that's something that somebody will be sure to remind you of in the future. And I don't think that's illegitimate. You have to be held accountable for what you do. . . . What I assume is in any election, people look at you in the whole. . . . Here's one time where it appears that he didn't pay enough attention to what the situation was, but hopefully people will judge me on my entire record. And I'm very confident that when they do that, they'll end up feeling I'm somebody they can trust.

Will your groundsman keep cutting the lawn?

. . . . We don't know exactly who is making decisions on behalf of the various properties that are involved. We've talked to the property manager that we have been communicating with, and we just want to make sure of is everything is as separate as possible.

So you're not going to mow his lawn anymore?

No. Here's the problem: the lawn is right next to our house, so I want to make sure somebody mows it. Originally, their intention, as I understand it, was to develop townhomes. They've got to get some sort of curb cut. . . . Right now, they don't have an entry. . . . I could seal off the fence and have people climb over with the lawnmower, but that's probably not . . .

Are you running for president?

After Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to sit down and think about how I can be most useful. That's a conversation that I, first and foremost, have to have with my family, with my pastor. It's also something that I need to have conversations with key people in Illinois because, after all, I'm an Illinois senator, and I think it's very important for me to make determinations in terms of whatever plans I have doing right by the constituents who put me in office.


Everyone has and will make mistakes. After all, we're all human. Judge this man on what he has done and can do for the American people. Stop trying to find dirt. Personally, I'm fed up with all the negative campaigning I've heard over the last several months and the last several presidential elections. We have a lot of issues in this country that need to be dealt with. We don't have time for the small stuff. If he's doing his job.....LEAVE HIM ALONE.

I agree with the Senator, that all of us make mistakes. I respect him for addressing the issue,and not trying to justify the situation that he was guilty of making, and that is why I respect him very much.

In closing, the Bible clearly states, he without sin, let him cast the first stone, and none of us can cast stones at one another.

Here's how the Ohio Democratic Party would view this situation as demonstrated by their recent TV ads here: (1)Tony Rezko was indicted on corruption charges; (2) Obama had a real estate deal with Rezko; (3)Obama should be indicted on corruption charges. What's good for the goose...

All that glitters isn't gold. I think Sheehan had a point about Obama's ability to stand up under Republican scrutiny. You do not have to look far to find some strong ammo. The Rezko Affair isn’t something Barack can just sluff off. It will not go away. It puts squarely in issue Barack's judgment, integrity and concern for his own people. Check it out. When he was in the Illinois State Legislature Rezko owned 11 buildings in Obama’s district that were stone cold slums. It does not appear that Barack did much, if anything, about constituent complaints. Instead, Barack took 10s of thousands of dollars from Rezko and did not return the money until he was was caught. Integrity at the point of a gun, is not much to brag about. Barack refuses to answer certain media questions from Chicago papaers about the Rezko Affair. Why? What else don't we know about Barack? WHY SHOULD WE GIVE BARACK A FREE PASS? THE REPUBLICANS WILL NOT.

@judith: unfortunately what you wrote is the stupidest thing I have read on any blog in a very long time.

I'm surprised that Obama, who according to Oprah and his own self assessmentis brilliant, can claim ignorance and be believed. What I read here is a desperate man who has been found out and is trying very hard at damage control. None of it is believeable - not even the reporter believes him. I'm glad this has surfaced because it allows voters to see him as the flawed human he is and brings him down from the pedestal he has put himself on. His encounters with reporters demonstrate not only that he has a temper, but that he has gotten away with non-answers to hard questions up until now.

I simply don't believe Obama's explanations. How about some answers to these questions:

"If there was a pre-existing full price offer pending for the lot next door, and then the Obamas came along with their offer which was satisfactory to the seller, how did Rezko insert himself into this pair of (supposedly independent) transactions?" (Were these truly separate and independent transactions or were they not?)

"Where is the buyer whose full price offer was ultimately rejected in favor of Rezko's? What does that person have to say? Did Rezko pay him or her to withdraw the pending offer?"

"Why, 6-7 months after these simultaneous real estate transactions, did Obama offer $104k to Rezko for a strip of land appraised at only $40k? Was this payback for a favor?" (The seller of that property was under investigation at the time (and eventually indicted) for government corruption. Does this show good judgment on Obama's part? Do I want this man spending my taxes as President?)

"Regarding the question about cutting the lawn on the adjoining lot, why not just admit that Rezko is his longtime friend and he doesn't mind mowing his friend's vacant lot, especially when it is right next door to his own property?" (If you've got nothing to hide, why trip over your own feet trying to distance yourself from your self-described "friend" whom you have "known for quite some time?")

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 7, 2006 8:51 AM.

Sweet column: Obama, what was he thinking. was the previous entry in this blog.

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