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Whenever a politician seeks help for a project in which supporters are involved, it can “spawn all kinds of traps and minefields,” said Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste, an advocacy group.

“The appearance of a conflict of interest is almost as bad as a conflict of interest,” she said.

Chicago Housing Authority officials say the practice is nothing unusual and in fact has been going on for years.

James Brooks, the consultant who drafted Mr. Obama’s letter, said such letters of support are seen as a “positive sign” by HUD when it doles out grants, though he added that the letters are not in themselves deciding factors.

“This isn’t a political process,” he said. “I might add that I wrote those letters myself. They didn’t originate from the mayor’s office or either of the senators’ offices,” Mr. Brooks said in an e-mail. “The final signed letters that are included in the application were changed very little from the drafts that I wrote.”

The Chicago Housing Authority’s managing director of development, William Little, called the practice “commonplace.”

“When we or other city agencies request the support of any member of our congressional or state delegation, the mayor or an alderman, we speak with them or their staff about the nature of and reasons for the request,” he said.

“If they agree that the request serves a compelling public purpose and are supportive we then prepare and submit the support letter for their and their staff’s review and approval. … The official and their staff are of course free to edit the letter as they wish.”

However, it’s unclear whether Mr. Obama’s office sought any additional information about the Stateway project.

“I’m not sure he or his staff would need to review any particular funding application in any detail to understand what we were trying to accomplish with the [grant] application,” Mr. Little said.

“In this instance, Senator Obama and Senator Durbin demonstrated their support of the Chicago Housing Authority´s mission and effort to provide badly needed, safe, sanitary, affordable housing by supporting our request for funding,” he said.

If Mr. Obama or his staff had learned more about the project, it’s likely they would also have known of Mr. Davis’ involvement, since Mr. Davis’ company, the Davis Group, is one of four in the Stateway Associates LLC development partnership, according to the city housing authority’s Web site.

Built in 1958, the Stateway site included eight crime-ridden, high-rise buildings with more than 1,600 public housing units. Officials are replacing the towers to make way for a “lower density, mixed-income community,” which they say eventually will include a mix of more than 1,300 market rate, affordable housing and public housing units, according to the housing authority.

The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this year that the development team, which was picked in 2001, had sought to complete 439 public housing units by September 2008. As of July, 58 units had been completed, according to court records.

Asked about the delays, Mr. Little said the project has encountered the same market downturns as elsewhere across the country. He said the development “is no more immune to the effects of the flagging housing market than anywhere else.”

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