- The Washington Times - Friday, June 6, 2008

Barack Obama learns a lot of things from the newspapers. He only learned yesterday that Hillary plans to concede tomorrow by reading about it in the papers.

He famously learned that his pastor - the man who he says led him to the Lord, presided at his wedding and baptized his two daughters - was a hateful old bigot who had been preaching racist nonsense only when he read about it in the newspapers. (He dozed through all 20 years of the preacher’s sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ.)

If it hadn’t been for the newspapers, the senator might never have known that Bill Ayers, in on the organization of his first political campaign and with whom he sat on the board of a charity dispensing money and favors to left-wing troublemakers, was an unreformed member of a cop-killing cell of 60s radicals.

He learned that Tony Rezko, his one-time fundraiser and accommodating pal who was convicted by a Chicago jury this week of 16 counts of fraud and money laundering, was a crook and a slumlord only by reading about it in the newspapers.

Mr. Obama, truly a pigeon among the cats, is a man badly served by his friends. They don’t tell him about the bad stuff they’re up to. He’s the last man on the South Side of Chicago who still doesn’t know where babies come from, or how they get here.

His Rezko connection may turn out to be the most interesting connection of all. Tony, an associate not only of Mr. Obama but of Sky Masterson, Nathan Detroit, Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse, stunned everyone in the courtroom when the jury returned with the verdicts. While his lawyer was saying he would appeal the convictions, Tony surrendered to the bailiffs to start serving his time at once. Just why he was in a hurry to get to work on license plates he didn’t say. Las Vegas gamblers hold his markers for nearly a half-million dollars, and besides, if he has any secrets embarrassing to Barack Obama nobody in the prison chow line will be bugging him for particulars. But he will live in interesting times.

The senator was not in on any of Tony Rezko’s nefarious schemes; all he did was hang out with Tony long after it became clear to everyone who had been reading the Chicago newspapers that Tony was in the business of buying and selling politicians. Newspaper delivery is never perfect, and as a one-time paperboy I know it’s perfectly credible that Mr. Obama’s paperboy missed his front porch on the various days that Tony Rezko’s deeds were splashed on Page One.

Tony Rezko is certainly not unique in Chicago, where profitable coincidences abound. He started buying and selling pols a quarter of a century ago, raising money for his favorites, most prominently including Barack Obama, and making deals with the city to buy up and redevelop slum housing. Neither he nor his partner had any experience in developing housing, but that didn’t matter because experience, as we have seen, is not necessarily prized in Chicago. With help from his friends in high places - at City Hall, in Springfield, even in Washington - Tony obtained more than $100 million in government grants, earning $7 million for himself. But in his haste to do good for the poor people of Chicago, he forgot to furnish heat to his tenants, and the city had to sue him several times to correct his oversight. More than half of the properties have been foreclosed; some are boarded up.

It was about this time that Tony helped the senator and his wife buy a house, and when the senator couldn’t afford to buy the lot next door - to give himself a little breathing room - Tony bought the lot and sold them part of it at a bargain. Chicago’s a toddlin’ town, after all, where everyone’s eager to lend a hand not necessarily to the down and out, but to the up and coming (and certainly to the already arrived).

The senator was “saddened,” he said, by the jury’s work. “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury. That once again shines a spotlight on the need for reform.” Alas, the spotlight might shine on something besides “reform,” so it’s under the bus for another unsavory someone in the senator’s past. Tony joins a growing crowd.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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