Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Obama's pal Eric Whitaker, his Tony Rezko tie

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With the prospects of Barack Obama winning the White House pretty good, the Sun-Times Watchdog team took a look in the Tuesday paper about a potential Obama administration appointee, pal Eric Whitaker.

By the Sun-Times Watchdog team
Dr. Eric Whitaker and Sen. Barack Obama go way back.

Their friendship began when they were graduate students at Harvard University. Now, Whitaker is one of Obama's closest advisers.

Whitaker, 43, of Chicago, often travels with the presidential hopeful on the campaign trail and has vacationed with him in Hawaii. There's talk Whitaker could be in line for a federal appointment if Obama becomes president.

Five years ago, Obama, then an Illinois state senator, gave a "glowing'' reference for Whitaker to Tony Rezko, the now-convicted political fixer who helped Gov. Blagojevich find people to run state agencies. Blagojevich hired Whitaker to be the state's public health director.

Obama has said that's the only time he can recall talking to Rezko -- who was a major campaign fund-raiser for him and for Blagojevich -- about getting anyone a state job.

"Somebody who I do remember talking directly to Tony about was Dr. Eric Whitaker," Obama told the Sun-Times in March. "He and I played basketball together when he was getting his master's in public health at Harvard, while I was in law school there. He had expressed an interest in that job. I did contact Tony, or Tony contacted me, and I gave him a glowing recommendation because I thought he was outstanding.''

Whitaker had been a rising star at Cook County's Stroger Hospital, known for a program he created that went to barbershops to educate black men on preventive care.

"I did not seek any position and was stunned when I was asked to interview for the IDPH director position," Whitaker, who declined an interview request, said in a written response to questions. "My first encounter with Tony Rezko was when he called and told me to come in for an interview approximately one week after I had already been interviewed'' by three other Blagojevich advisers.

As state health chief, Whitaker spent millions on programs that used churches to educate minorities about AIDS, breast cancer and preparing for public health emergencies, a program hailed nationwide.

Whitaker's agency also got caught up in scandal. He oversaw the budget of the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board, which approves medical construction projects. Rezko and his associates controlled that board, which they used to solicit kickbacks and payoffs, according to testimony at Rezko's trial.

Rezko was convicted. Whitaker, who said he wasn't involved in the board's day-to-day operations, was never accused of any wrongdoing.

"During my time as director of IDPH, I received four or five calls from Tony Rezko seeking my support for and attendance at the St. Jude's Children's Hospital charity event,'' Whitaker said. "After my employment interview, I never had a conversation with Mr. Rezko about the" health department or the planning board.

Whitaker left the state payroll a year ago and joined Obama's wife Michelle as a high-ranking executive at the University of Chicago Medical Center. When he was hired, U. of C. was seeking permission to expand its children's hospital -- one of five expansions the university sought from the state while Whitaker was health director. All were approved by the planning board. Whitaker and the U. of C. said he had nothing to do with those approvals.

"Whether and to what extent Dr. Whitaker had anything to do with the [approval] process while at IDPH was and is totally irrelevant to his hiring by or his work at the Medical Center," wrote Susan S. Sher, a medical center attorney.

9 Comments

What was Tony doing vetting health appointments? That's the real question.

Hey ho. Let's hear what Tony has to say about Whitaker now that he is telling Fitzgerald absolutely EVERYTHING he knows about absolutely EVERYONE. Think, Al Capone spilling the beans.

Rezko knows enough to put half the population of Illinois in jail.

The whole farce of this is that Obama won't be indicted until after he is President--Spiro Agnew style.

It's interesting that this comes up on the context of the hospital board, because at least some of Obama's 18 USC 1346 violations will be for the 2003 board legislation he carried.

There are taped phone calls involving him on this issue, thanks to Levine.

But remember, this is bigger than Barack, or even Tony. These jokers are simply flunkeys for the Syrian Mafia--Auchi, Alsammarae, General Mediterranean, and the whole crew.

So it's rather important to keep Barack from the White House, since, if he gets in, the Syrian mafia will be running the U.S. government.

I do hope Rez is also implicating the loathesome and hoody Plouffe and above all the imp Axelrod.

I filed complaints with the IDPH during Whitaker's regime. I can testify that the subsequent "investigations" could best be described as being lax and negligent. This caused the results to be inaccurate.

Like so many other government agencies, they did not let the facts get in the way of how they conducted business.

The lack of interest in these stories is disheartening. But then again, I heard about a poll this week which showed that a large majority of American voters think the Republicans have had control of Congress for the last two years. The complexity of "Operation Board Games" and the unwillingness of the press (Lynn Sweet and a few others excepted) to clarify and break down the story for the general public have made these important stories "irrelevant" in this election. Time is running out. And Patrick Fitzgerald has an enormous responsibility on his watch.

Yeah, you're right.


I can't imagine why people think they're untouchable, my only hope is Obama manages, inadvertently, to take down the whole corrupt ring, exposing them all.

IT WILL ALL BE OVER NEXT WEEK, AND YOU GUYS CAN
GRASP AT STRAWS AT OBAMA'S INAUGURATION!
SLING THAT MUD, LOSE THAT ELECTION SYNDROME!
MCCAIN AND PALIN NEED REHAB FROM THIS SYNDROME!

The person responsible for the terrorism and preparedness plan for Illinois is Leslee Stein-Spencer, RN. She had this program in place long before Eric Whitaker came to this position. I think you should check your fact on this accolade. He deserves very little credit for this.

I am disappointed to see President-elect Obama considering Eric Whitaker for anything. Whitaker was one of the worst directors the Illinois Department of Health ever had. He was a terrible administrator, hired a bunch of his cronies, cut illegal contracts with his buddies and the buddies of buddies, showed up late and left early. Watchdog has exposed just the tip of the iceberg.
According to the SunTimes, he's been a VP at the U of Chicago AND been on the road with Obama for 18 months. Sounds like he has the same work ethic at U of C that he had when he worked for the state.

I am a crook. Tony helped me by the yard for my house.

Syrian Mafia? Crooks? OBama shouldn't be let in the whitehouse? Are you all blind? who has been running the Bush white house..or the raegan..or Nixon..etc.. you think they weren't crooks as well? You think George bush is a saint or what..? do you know the terrible influence cheney has had? the last decent president america had was in the19 century! live with it ! all you have now are corporation owned leaders. Period.

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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 October 28, 2008 5:48 AM.

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