WASHINGTON--Barack Obama continues to be attacked by John McCain and other Republicans for his relationship with Bill Ayers, the former terrorist turned respected Chicago educator. Obama served on civic boards with Ayers and Ayers held a coffee for Obama when Obama first ran for a state senate seat in 1995. McCain said he may bring up Ayers at the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night.
Obama said McCain--running ads featuring Ayers with Sarah Palin making him an issue on the stump--never said anything to his face. Ayers did not came up in the first two presidential debates. If McCain continues to insist that Obama launched his political career from Ayers' Hyde Park living room, he is misleading the public by overplaying the size and significance of Ayers' early support.
*Obama's campaign really was launched when he got the backing of then state Sen. Alice Palmer (D-Chicago), who wanted him to replace her as she was planning a run for Congress. Palmer's backing gave him entrée into local influential political circles.
Obama and Palmer would later have a falling out that continues to this day. Palmer changed her mind and decided to run for re-election after all. Obama got Palmer and his other rivals knocked off the ballot. Palmer ended up backing Hillary Rodham Clinton's Democratic primary bid.
*Obama's formal kick-off to announce his run for state senate was at the Hyde Park Ramada Inn on Sept. 19, 1995. Obama was introduced by Palmer in a room filled with supporters at the Ramada, fronting Lake Michigan on South Lake Shore Drive, a stroll from the Museum of Science and Industry.
*Around this time, Obama started to attend a series of coffees in the Hyde Park community where he lived, standard operating procedure for political rookies running in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago.
"I was certainly (hosting) one of the first," said Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, rabbi emeritus at Chicago's KAM Isaiah Israel--located across the street from the Obama home.
"There were several every week," he recalled on Tuesday night when we spoke. "I remember what I said to him: 'Someday you are going to be vice president of the United States.' He laughed and said, 'Why not president?'''
*The Ackermans, Sam and Martha, longtime Hyde Park activists in independent Democratic politics, also held an early event for Obama in their condo on E. Hyde Park Boulevard. (They have since divorced.)
Sam Ackerman told me Tuesday when we exchanged e-mails that "as I recall, the event at Bill Ayers' house (prior to ours) was a fund-raiser for Alice's congressional campaign at which she also introduced Barack as the successor she would like to see elected."
If Ackerman's recollection is correct--that the event at Ayers home was really for Palmer and Obama just piggy backed on it--then any argument that the Obama's political career was launched in the Ayers home is moot.
Martha and I talked on Tuesday night and she said she was not sure if the coffee at their condo for about 20 people was before or after Obama's Ramada Inn announcement.
"As a starter, I know that Barack went to Alice Palmer," Martha Ackerman told me. "...Then the question was, 'how do you go about doing this in the Hyde Park way," she said, a reference to the personal touch needed in the Hyde Park- Kenwood neighborhoods, at the time immune to the dictates of the remnants of the Chicago machine and Mayor Daley's City Hall.
"...the way to launch the campaign was to have coffee, and not one coffee, as in 'this is the start of everything.' Barack went around to a number of people and requested that they hold coffees for him."
But the Ackerman's did not want to host an event for Obama without meeting him first. So he came over to their house and spent more than an hour with the couple.
When Obama left, "I said to Sam, 'this guy could be the first African American president of the United States."
Martha Ackerman said, "I know there were a number of coffees. It wasn't just one or two."