Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is the other South Sider who has made it big in national politics.
"My life is often described as 'improbable,' " Patrick writes in his just released memoir, A Reason to Believe, which opens with a scene where a 15-year-old Patrick braces for humiliation when he realizes he boarded a southbound Wabash Avenue CTA bus near 54th St. without money for the fare. The driver lets him ride anyway, telling him, "Just pass it on, son."
That act of kindness helped shape the values of Patrick, a Democrat re-elected last November after a sometimes stormy first term. He is friends with President Obama, a co-chair of his 2008 White House campaign. Patrick is poised to take on a larger role in Obama's re-election bid, meeting with Obama 2012 strategist David Axelrod in Chicago last February and last week at the White House with Senior Advisor David Plouffe.
In raising his profile, Patrick addressed Democrats in Colorado in January and will be keynoting Democratic dinners in Wisconsin and Florida -- all critical swing states for Obama in 2012.
Patrick was also in Washington to announce the creation of a group he will help lead, dedicated to aggressively defending Obama's health care law. The Affordable Care Act, under attack by Republicans, is modeled in part on the Massachusetts health coverage plan. Patrick is bragging about the success of the Massachusetts system, while his predecessor, former Gov. Mitt Romney, a 2012 GOP presidential hopeful, has been distancing himself from the health law he signed.
Obama and Patrick never overlapped in Chicago. They met in 1995 at the suggestion of Abner Mikva, the Chicagoan who was then serving as President Clinton's White House counsel. Patrick was in the Clinton Justice Department.
When I talked to Patrick Friday in a phone interview, he recalled Mikva told him, "There is a young man in Chicago, I think you guys should know each other. There is a lot about him that reminds me of you and a lot about you that reminds me about him."
Obama and Patrick share common elements in their stories, their politics, their political consultants -- even slogans. Axelrod and Plouffe and their firm were key strategists in Patrick's runs for governor in 2006 and 2010 and Obama's 2004 Senate and 2008
Axelrod told me there is a "high regard and affection between them."
Both Obama and Patrick were raised by their mothers while their fathers took off -- Obama's back to Kenya and Patrick's to New York. They each attended an elite private school on a scholarship and picked up law degrees from Harvard.
While Obama moved to Chicago after college, Patrick is a real South Sider in the sense that his roots are here, growing up in poverty far more dramatic than any Obama experienced.
Patrick was born July 31, 1956, in an apartment on 79th and Calumet, swaddled and placed in a turkey pan and placed in an oven -- the door left open -- to keep him warm, he told me.
His mother, Emily, was forced to move in with her parents in a flat at 54th and Wabash after his father, known as Pat, a sax player, left the family for New York when Patrick was 5. Patrick's grandfather was a janitor at the old South Shore Bank, at 71st and Jeffrey.
Patrick's cousin, Renae Wintersmith-Griffin, and half-sister, La'Shon Roberts, still live in Chicago, on the North Side. He chuckled when I asked him where.
Growing up on the South Side, "I had no concept of the North Side," Patrick told me. "In the '50s and the '60s, the South Side was for us. In our family, we went downtown once a year" usually before the start of the school year "mostly to do clothes shopping at the State Street Sears and for the occasional movie."
He worshiped at the Cosmopolitan Community Church at 53rd and Wabash. He attended the Mary C. Terrell School at the Robert Taylor Homes through sixth grade, then the DuSable Upper Grade Center where he was hassled by gang members outside of school.
At DuSable UGC, a teacher, Darla Weissenberg, saw his promise and told him about a program -- called A Better Chance -- that could show him another world. He wound up at an exclusive prep school, Milton Academy outside of Boston -- and on a path leading to Harvard, Harvard Law, away from the South Side of Chicago.
He switched teams on his journey.
Said Patrick, "Growing up I was a South Side kid and a South Sider. Now I live in Massachusetts and I am a Red Sox fan through and through."
". . . Sometimes if people ask me which it is, I just say I'm a Sox fan, it's simpler."