Sun-TImes probe: As state senator, Obama steered $100,000 grant to supporter for urban "garden" never built. Botanic boondoggle details. Obama response.

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My Chicago Sun-Times colleagues Chris Fusco and Dave McKinney write in the Friday Chicago Sun-Times about how presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.)--as a state senator--gave a $100,000 state grant to a supporter for a botanic garden in a blighted community that was never built. The project was out of Obama's state senate district--but squarely in the First Congressional District of Illinois that Obama at the time was running to represent. Tim Novak contributed to the report. Obama's full response is at the end of the story.


Obama's $100,000 garden grant wasted
He vowed to 'work tirelessly' to build an oasis for Englewood. It never happened.


BY CHRIS FUSCO AND DAVE MCKINNEY Staff Reporters

As a state senator, Barack Obama gave $100,000 in state money to a campaign volunteer who failed to deliver on a plan to create a botanic garden in one of Chicago's most blighted neighborhoods.

Obama -- who was running for Congress when he announced the project in 2000 -- said the green space in Englewood would build ''a sense of neighborhood pride."


Kenny B. Smith, a onetime campaign volunteer for Barack Obama, can't explain exactly how he spent $100,000 of taxpayer's money on a garden that was never built.


Instead, what was supposed to be a six-block stretch of trees and paths is now a field of unfulfilled dreams, strewn with weeds, garbage and broken pavement.

Kenny B. Smith, whose nonprofit group got the money, said it was spent legitimately, mostly on underground site preparation. But he admitted Thursday that the garden is a lost cause because other government money never came through.

"We gave up," said Smith, who heads the Chicago Better Housing Association. "It was a losing battle."

Smith -- an early Obama supporter who gave $550 to his state and congressional campaigns -- said he gave his paperwork documenting the work to a state agency and no longer has it. A Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity spokeswoman said officials would look into the matter.

Smith blamed the site's current poor condition on construction material dumped there during the state's recent reconstruction of the Dan Ryan Expy.

But a reporter walked the site last week with a landscape architect from the Illinois Green Industry Association who found no evidence of the work Smith cited. The only major changes since 2000: A gazebo was added, and some trees were cut down.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said through a spokesman he wasn't responsible for monitoring the work; the staffs of Gov. Blagojevich and former Gov. George Ryan were.

"It is clear that Englewood residents have not been able to benefit from a completed community garden," Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt said. "Sen. Obama will . . . do everything he can to ensure that the Englewood community gets the resources it needs to provide its residents with a livable neighborhood."

On Jan. 14, 2000, Obama and Smith announced the Englewood Beautification Plan at Englewood High School. Obama promised to help raise $1.1 million. He was running then to unseat U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, but lost in the Democratic primary.

The beautification project, planned near and under L tracks between 59th Place and 62nd Place, was outside Obama's state Senate district but within the congressional district.

"I will work tirelessly in Springfield and in Chicago to raise public and private dollars to fund this worthy endeavor," Obama said then.

In 2001, at Obama's direction, a $100,000 Illinois FIRST grant went to Smith's group. The garden site was part of Rosewood Estates, an affordable-housing development being built by the group, whose unpaid board chairman was Brian Washington, a Sun-Times security guard.

Plans called for more than 50 homes, but only a dozen were built, Smith said.

The remaining $1 million for the botanic garden was never raised.

Now, Smith said he's trying to get city leaders to let him use the land and other vacant lots to build about 30 new homes in Englewood.

Contributing: Tim Novak
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RESPONSE FROM THE OBAMA CAMPAIGN

Statement: “Senator Obama worked with Englewood residents to secure $100,000 in funding to lay the groundwork for a community garden that would replace a downtrodden area. Two state agencies signed off on the grant, which was provided to the Chicago Better Housing Association – a non-profit that received funding from diverse sources including HUD, Fannie Mae, the Wells Fargo Foundation and the Citigroup Foundation.”

“In December 2004, the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity certified that grant money had been spent appropriately after CBHA submitted a series of expense reports and documentation showing progress at the site.”

“Senator Obama’s work for the Englewood community was not limited working to securing funds to lay the groundwork for a garden – he also secured funding to assist low income patients at the Englewood Health Center and to provide a safe space to work and play for young community residents at the Southwest Youth Collaborative.”

“While the state certified that the grant money was spent appropriately, it is clear that Englewood residents have not been able to benefit from a completed community garden that could have provided much needed green space and work opportunities for local residents. Senator Obama will work with city and state officials and do everything he can to ensure that the Englewood community gets the resources it needs to provide its residents with a livable neighborhood that provides opportunities, and that the site is developed in a way that benefits the Englewood community.”

14 Comments

Lynn Sweet, you're my hero. Keep keeping 'em honest!

Neither of the above two articles mentioned that the Kenny B. Smith, the man that received the grant gave $550.oo to the OBAMA campaign. Lets report all the facts, not just what looks good.

TELL IT CORRECTLY, KENNY SMITH DIDN'T DO WHAT HE SAID HE WAS GOING
TO DO!
GIVE HIM CREDIT FOR GETTING THEM THE GRANT!

Let's unsnarl the Obama response: Hope. I only made the pig. Change. It was state bureaucrats who are actually responsible for delivering the pork to my future constituents. Hope. These same state bureaucrats say they delivered all the pork from the pig I made so there is nothing to see here and we should all move on because George Bush is bad, John McCain is a "confused" [old man] and none of this will help Michelle's kids. Hope. Change. Hope. No more questions.

Same ole, same ole.

Supporter gives politician money.
State gives supporter LOTS of money.
State certifies money spent appropriately.

Naked eye tells taxpayers NOTHING was done.

State promises to spend more money.
Politician takes credit.

Wheres fightthesmears the Obama website to clean all this up? Obama is amazing what he has gotten away with so far. He is not vetted and where is the driveby media I'll give the Sun Times credit for this blog by Lynn Sweet and Inside Obama's ACORN by Stanley Kurtz. Both blogs show much more has to come out or we''ll get this guy for President.

Okay, so this looks like Mr. Smith has some 'splainin' to do, or some work to do. But the link to Obama is exactly...?
It was the agency's job to police the money, right?
Smith volunteered for Obama, right?
How many hours?
He gave a piddling sum to Obama--I think I may have given about a third of that so far.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "oohh, how corrupt" if it were McSame.
I worry about big corruption--like wars for oil, like false flag attacks to get us into wars for oil. That kind of stuff.
This is like the cartoon before the movie starts, no?

Posted by: PHIL SMITH JR | July 11, 2008 09:35 AM

I needed that...Thank you...

Poor Miss Sweet

After months of fawning and gushing Barry turned out to be a putz and now desperately chasing her tatterd reputation she thinks honest journalism is her salvation.

Best Advice: Get rid of the Karl Rove in drag look instead.

LYNN, keep peeling the "onion" that is Obama. Depending on one's
view, we're in search of the many layers of "truth", half
truths, and otherwise coreless statements tailored to suit his
political needs.
"Change" is an appropriate theme for this man. People are seeing
past the poetry of his "words" and are finally focusing on WHO he
is.

I hope that Obama supporters can at least agree that Obama was a participant in "politics as usual" - no change here. I too worry about big things, but Obama has no track record of doing anything positive on any front. That is where the lack of experience worries people. We have no clue at all on his inclination to follow through on anything that has a positive impact. I can see that Obama is planning major speeches in Germany and at football stadiums - but avoiding venues where he answers questions directly from the people and has to work without a teleprompter. I am totally offended my Obama's candidacy. Has he ever held a full time job? Did he do anything at any job that helped anyone? I doubt it.

Typical WASTE of taxpayers money because of Cook County patronage machine politics to pals and/or as favors to campaign workers----not CHANGE.

Lynn, by the way, can embezzlement of public funds be filed v. Smith? Or corruption charges? What is the States Atty. waiting for? Lock him up and throw away the key......Push for it?

Don't get it?Obama has been giving grants well, requesting them as the get aproved the friends of Obama will give him a kick back on their grant money.Obama is stealing from our own govement.

man wake up. Obama lied that he never did this.But on Rezko Obama requested grants for him and Obama said he never did.But holy and behole-pop the online grants with Obama had sign come to the light that Obama did infact give Rezko grants.As Obama is a liar.and if you go to his website sure you will be to;d fairy tails from him.Did your research people.

never Obama! The king of liars and flip floper!

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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 July 11, 2008 6:59 AM.

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