Chapter 7: The First Campaign
A sex scandal created the opening Barack Obama needed to get into politics.
Chicagoans are used to seeing their politicians misbehave, but usually the transgressions involve a lust for money. A secretary of state is found dead in his Springfield hotel room, alone except for $900,000 in kickbacks, stuffed into shoeboxes. A congressman uses official funds to buy gift ashtrays and trades in postage for cash, as though he’s redeeming green stamps at the supermarket. An alderman shakes down a liquor license applicant for a bribe. The list of hinky officeholders is endless, repetitive and forgettable.
Rep. Mel Reynolds caused such a sensation because his sins were carnal, not financial. Reynolds, a second-term congressman from the South Side, was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old he’d met during his 1992 run for office. Reynolds had spotted the girl while driving around the district and pulled over to chat, even though he was supposed to be politicking and she was too young to vote. Soon after, she joined his campaign as volunteer and mistress. Two years later, the girl confessed to the affair to her next-door neighbor, who happened to be a Chicago police officer. The state’s attorney set up a phone-sex sting. While sitting in a prosecutor’s office, the girl called Reynolds and told him she couldn’t make their tryst because she had to babysit.
“What you gonna wear?” Reynolds prompted.
“Well, my peach underwear, like you told me to. I was hoping we could do something really special but I see that’s not going to happen, I guess.”
“I was definitely gonna fuck,” Reynolds said.
“Right in my office. I was gonna masturbate too.”
At the panting congressman’s urging, the girl spun a story of sex with a lesbian lover. When Reynolds asked if the other woman would be willing to do a threesome, the girl said no – but she knew a 15-year-old girl who might. A 15-year-old Catholic schoolgirl.
“Did I win the Lotto?” Reynolds exclaimed.
There was no 15-year-old schoolgirl. But Reynolds’ declaration of his lust for teenagers turned into a catchphrase. Jay Leno joked about it on The Tonight Show. The case was so salacious it made headlines in Chicago for more than a year. Reynolds won re-election in his heavily Democratic district, but, by 1995, he was facing a trial that threatened to cost him his seat in Congress.
Reynolds’s downfall was so distressing because he wasn’t supposed to be another Chicago pol. His election had represented the same sort of post-racial promise and generational change that Obama’s would a dozen years later. Born in Mississippi, raised in a housing project, Reynolds had attended Harvard and won a Rhodes Scholarship. After two failed primary runs, he finally unseated Rep. Gus Savage, a crude black nationalist who campaigned by reading aloud lists of Reynolds’s contributors, lingering over the names of Jews.
Reynolds protested that he was only guilty of phone sex and erotic fantasies, but as his trial approached, a challenger stepped forward. State Sen. Alice Palmer announced she would run against Reynolds in the Democratic primary the following March. Palmer’s seat was up for re-election in 1996, so, win or lose, she would be leaving the legislature. As a middle-aged woman, Palmer figured to be an appealing candidate against a congressman caught in a sex scandal. She immediately won the support of EMILY’S List, which donates to female politicians around the country.
Palmer’s state senate district included Hyde Park, so this was Obama’s chance.
“If Alice decides she wants to run, I want to run for her state senate seat,” he told his alderman, Toni Preckwinkle.
Obama also discussed his ambitions with John Ruiz, his old law school student. The two had become friends, sharing an annual summer luncheon. In 1995, Ruiz brought a copy of Dreams From my Father for Obama to sign.
“You’re the only guy I know who wrote a book,” Ruiz said. “Who knows? You
might make something of yourself someday.”
That day was now, Obama told Ruiz. He laid out a plan for a political career that would begin in the state senate and culminate with his election to Harold Washington’s old job.
“I’m going to need help from you,” Obama said earnestly.
“Barack, Mayor Daley is going to be there forever,” Ruiz scoffed. But he agreed to work on Obama’s senate campaign. That seemed possible. He held a small fundraiser in his apartment, raising $1,000.
Around this time, Obama had dinner with Douglas Baird. Now dean of the law school, Baird took Obama to the Park Avenue Café, a fancy downtown restaurant. He had woo on his mind. He wanted Obama to become a full-time assistant professor and dedicate himself to law teaching and academic writing.
During the meal, Baird asked Obama about his law school grades. Obama, who took his intellectual image seriously, shot Baird an irritated look. Wasn’t a Harvard degree proof enough that he knew the law?
“Douglas,” he said, “I graduated magna.”
So Baird offered him a job.
“Barack, I’d like you to become a full-time academic,” Baird said, “but you have to understand, if you become a full-time academic, you have to seriously commit yourself to academic scholarship. There’s no sense getting into something if you don’t have relatively clear expectations.”
“Douglas, that’s not me,” Obama said.
Obama enjoyed teaching, but he didn’t see himself as someone who wrote academic papers or attended conferences where scholars critiqued the works of Richard Posner. It was too far removed from real life. He was going into politics, he told Baird. He was running for the state senate. Obama even asked Baird for a donation. Baird wrote him a check, but thought it amusing that, at one point during the dinner, Obama leaned over and revealed he was wearing an Armani tie. A guy in an Armani tie, asking me for money, Baird thought.
Obama wanted to run for the legislature with Alice Palmer’s blessing. But despite his political involvement, Obama had never met his state senator. He had an in, though: Brian Banks, his old colleague from Project Vote!, was managing Palmer’s campaign. Obama called him.
“I want to run,” he told Banks. “I want to talk to Alice.”
Banks arranged a meeting at the North Side home of Hal Baron. Baron, who had been Harold Washington’s policy director, was chairing Palmer’s campaign. At the meeting, Obama told Palmer of his plans.
“Do you have any problem with that?” he asked, wanting assurance, “and will you come back if you lose?”
The second question was especially important to Obama. By the time he met Palmer, Mel Reynolds had been convicted, imprisoned, and resigned his seat in Congress. That meant Palmer was no longer running in the March 1996 primary. She was running in a special election, scheduled for November 28, 1995, which would give her enough time to re-file for the state senate if she lost. And defeat was a real possibility because two better-known challengers had entered the race: Emil Jones, Jr., minority leader of the state senate, and Jesse Jackson, Jr., the 30-year-old son and namesake of the civil rights leader. Palmer assured Obama she was all in. It was going to be Congress or bust.
Alice Palmer wasn’t a Hyde Parker – she lived in nearby South Shore – but she was perfectly attuned to the neighborhood’s character. She had begun her career as an academic, earning a Ph.D. from Northwestern and serving as that university’s director of African-American student affairs. Although she was politically active – she founded the Chicago Free South Africa Committee – Palmer didn’t get into electoral politics until she was 49, joining in a rebellion against the remnants of the Machine. Her committeeman had supported Jane Byrne for mayor against Harold Washington. After Washington’s death, progressives all over the city set out to defeat black and Latino politicians who hadn’t had Harold’s back. In 1984, Palmer was swept into office as part of the New Ward Committeeman Coalition, a gang of liberals who held regular meetings at a Mexican restaurant and supported pro-Washington candidates for city council.
Seven years later, Palmer was running a non-profit called Cities in Schools, which brought mentors and money to inner-city students. Richard Newhouse, the long-serving state senator from the 13th District, fell ill and resigned from his seat. It was up to the committeemen to appoint a replacement. They wanted Palmer.
“I’m writing a grant,” she protested. “I’m busy.”
But she was drafted anyway, and went to Springfield, where she served as an independent Democrat, helping to ensure that lottery money funded education and holding hearings on universal health care.
Palmer did more than give Obama her blessing and promise to get out of the way. She introduced him as her successor. On September 19, 1995, Obama announced his candidacy before 200 supporters at the Ramada Inn Lakeshore. Palmer preceded him to the microphone, where she anointed him as a scion of the lakefront liberal movement.
“In this room,” she declared, “Harold Washington announced for mayor. It looks different, but the spirit is still in this room. Barack Obama carries on the tradition of independence in this district, a tradition that continued with me and most recently with Senator Newhouse. His candidacy is a passing of the torch because he’s the person that people have embraced and have lifted up as the person they want to represent this district.”
It wasn’t just Palmer who signaled that Obama was the independent movement’s choice. In attendance were both Hyde Park aldermen, Barbara Holt and Toni Preckwinkle. Also in the crowd was Cook County Clerk David Orr, who had been one of Harold Washington’s few white allies on the city council.
Obama began his first run for office with a lawyer joke. “Politicians are not held to highest esteem these days – they fall somewhere lower than lawyers,” he said, before delivering the message Hyde Parkers wanted to hear: “I want to inspire a renewal of morality in politics. I will work as hard as I can, as long as I can, on your behalf.”
Obama opened a campaign office on 71st Street, far from Hyde Park, but close to the center of the district, which reached south into South Shore and west into Englewood, one of the city’s poorest, most barren neighborhoods. As his campaign manager, he hired another Project Vote! veteran, Carol Anne Harwell, who had run races for Alderman Sam Burrell, County Clerk David Orr, and Danny Davis, a county commissioner who would later go to Congress. Harwell had been baffled by Obama’s interest in the seat.
“Why do you want to do that?” she’d said, when Obama told her he planned to run.
“We can make some changes,” he responded. Then he added, “Alice asked me.”
Harwell’s job was to transform Obama from a law lecturer to a Chicago politician. Despite Palmer’s endorsement, his election was not a sure thing. There were two other candidates: Marc Ewell, the son of a former state representative, and Gha-is Askia, who had the support of Sen. Emil Jones, and a name as exotic as Obama’s. Outside of Hyde Park, Obama was unknown in the district. Not only did he have to get known, he had to overcome the rest of the South Side’s suspicion toward uppity U of C types. He decided to spend most of his time campaigning in Englewood. Starting every evening around suppertime, he’d doff his suit coat so he could roll up his sleeves and don the leather jacket he’d worn as a law student.“Where are you going?” Harwell would ask.
“We’re going to circulate some petitions.”
“It’s cold, Barack.”
Undaunted, Obama would drive his Saab into the hood. He didn’t bother to wear a hat or gloves, even as Chicago sank into winter. That was something else he needed to learn about local politics. After he caught a cold, Harwell scolded him.
“Barack, this is Chicago,” she said. “You have to learn how to dress.”
Obama was a big hit with the little old ladies who answered the doors of Englewood’s worn two-flats and decaying houses. They were just as eager as the women of DCP to mother this skinny young man. Obama was offered fried chicken sizzling in stovetop pans and invited to sit down and explain where he’d gotten that funny name.
“My father was from Africa,” he explained, and that led to even more conversation, until Obama had spent 15 minutes to get a single name on his petition. Door knocking hours were 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and, sometimes, Obama would leave an apartment house with only three signatures.
“Barack, you can’t sit and talk to them,” Harwell lectured. “I’m gonna give you a goal. We’re gonna do two sheets.”
As with everything else he’d ever attempted, Obama proved a quick learner. His forays into ghetto Englewood also reawakened street smarts he hadn’t needed in Hyde Park or at Harvard. One Saturday he was walking a precinct with John Ruiz. Another group of campaign volunteers ran up to Obama with serious news.
“There’s a bunch of thugs coming over and asking us who gave us permission to walk in their neighborhood, and one of them flashed a gun,” a volunteer reported.
Ordinarily, Obama didn’t hesitate to approach gang-bangers on street corners. But these were his volunteers. And there was a gun involved.
“It’s time to go,” he snapped.
Obama got a boost from another old colleague when Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn hosted a small Sunday brunch for him at their house. Again, Palmer was there and introduced Obama as her chosen successor, touting his bona fides as a community organizer, a Harvard graduate, and a law school teacher.
During the campaign, Obama found time to attend the Million Man March, in Washington, D.C. And he was the subject of his first feature-length profile, a flattering, 4,300-word cover story in the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly that carried the banner of the city’s independent movement. Obama told writer Hank DeZutter that he was running for office to empower ordinary citizens, just as he’d done as a community organizer.
“What if a politician were to see his job as that of an organizer,” he wondered, “as part teacher and part advocate, one who does not sell voters short but who educates them about the real choices before them? As an elected public official, for instance, I could bring church and community leaders together easier than I could as a community organizer or lawyer. We would come together to form concrete economic development strategies, take advantage of existing laws and structures, and create bridges and bonds within all sectors of the community. We must form grass-root structures that would hold me and other elected officials more accountable for their actions.”
It hearkened back to that long-ago conversation with John McKnight, in the Wisconsin cabin. Obama had quit community organizing not because he disagreed with its goals, but because he wanted to be on the inside, making decisions. As a community organizer, he had protested decision makers. As a lawyer, he had sued them. As a state senator, he would finally be one of them.
As payback for Palmer’s support, Obama acted as an advisor to her congressional campaign. He attended strategy meetings and helped develop a position paper on building a freight-handling airport in the south suburbs. Still, Obama felt conflicted about supporting Palmer, for both personal and political reasons. He wanted to help a mentor, but Michelle was an old schoolmate of Jesse Jackson Jr.’s wife, Sandi. Harwell had advised him not to take sides in the congressional race, to avoid making enemies of the Jacksons, or of Mayor Richard M. Daley, who was supporting Emil Jones.
Against those powerful Chicago dynasties, Palmer’s campaign was floundering. By her nature, she was an academic, not a politician, driven more by the need to change public policy than by the ego gratification of winning elections. This shared wonkiness was one reason she and Obama had hit it off, but it made her ill-suited for a Congressional race. As a committeeman, she had done little to build her ward organization, so she was unknown even to some of her own constituents.
Jesse Jackson, Jr., had no problems with name recognition. His father was one of the most famous black men in Chicago, and he used that connection astutely, collecting money from Rainbow PUSH donors and spending it on expensive mailers and phone banks. Most of his money came from out of state. Bill Cosby and Johnnie Cochran wrote checks. Jones was depending on ward organizations. True to her background in community groups, Palmer ran a grass-roots campaign. She tried to dismiss Jackson as a young upstart trading on his family name.
“Politics, like good cooking, needs some seasoning,” she said, following up with a jibe against Jackson’s father. “I came out of a tradition of taking people seriously, that not everything can be reduced to a sound bite that rhymes.”
“Junior,” as he was called then, and still is, had inherited his father’s gift for oratory, although he came off as more disciplined, less passionate, enunciating each word as though he’d been trained in elocution. Yes, he conceded, he was half the age of his rivals, but that was an asset. A congressman needed years to build seniority, and he had those years. His goal was to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, like Chicago’s own Dan Rostenkowski, who was also elected to Congress at age 30. Why elect an old man like Emil Jones who was more valuable in his current job as leader of the state senate Democrats? In a flourish that no doubt made his father proud, Junior took a swipe at Jones while working in Chicago’s biggest sports stories of 1995: Bulls’ forward B.J. Armstrong’s expansion draft loss to the Toronto Raptors and Michael Jordan’s retirement from basketball.
“I’m not running against Emil Jones,” he insisted. “I am trying to build a stronger team. B.J. should never have been traded; M.J. should have stayed in basketball; E.J. should stay in Springfield, and J.J. should be sent to Congress.”
Jones didn’t have much of an answer for that. He was an ineffective public speaker who had talked in a deep mumble best suited for giving orders in the back room of a ward office.
“If he was named Jesse Smith, he wouldn’t even be on the radar screen,” Jones groused, ignoring the fact that nepotism had never bothered Chicago voters. (When Jones himself retired from the Senate, he was succeeded by Emil Jones III).
A week before the election, a Chicago Tribune poll found that Jackson had 97 percent name recognition in the district, compared with 69 percent for Jones and 61 percent for Palmer. Palmer was leading among white voters, who had a strongly negative view of the Jackson family. She tried to take advantage of that by locating her campaign headquarters in the suburbs. Whites had helped Mel Reynolds overthrow Gus Savage, but they could only make a difference in a close race. And this race wasn’t close at all.
On November 28, the night of the special election, Palmer and her supporters gathered at a hotel in the suburb of Harvey. Her defeat was obvious as soon as the first returns came in, and it only looked worse as the numbers piled up. Jackson got 50,600 votes; Jones, 38,865; and Palmer, 9,260. She lost her own ward, even her own precinct.
Obama and Harwell followed the returns from Obama’s campaign office. To Harwell, Palmer’s loss meant nothing for the state senate race.
“We need to move forward,” she told Obama.
Obama, however, was genuinely conflicted. Palmer had endorsed him, and he wasn’t going to make a decision without talking to her first.
“We need to call Alice,” he said. “She’s still the senator, and if she wants the senate seat, she should have it back.”
Obama drove to the hotel where Palmer was making her concession speech.
“I wanted to build a coalition that bridges city and suburbs, young and old, men and women and ethnic groups in order to forge a new social contract,” Palmer told her small crowd. Not many people had voted, but “I’m not disappointed for myself, but for the missed opportunities people had to say ‘change was needed.’”
Once she left the podium, Palmer repeated to Obama and Hal Baron that she did not plan to re-enter the race for state senate. That satisfied Obama.
“If she’s not running, then I’m still running,” he told Baron.
It did not, however, satisfy Palmer’s husband, Edward “Buzz” Palmer, a politically active Chicago police officer who had helped found the African-American Patrolman’s Union.
“What the shit is she saying?” Buzz Palmer exploded to Baron. “Go up there and tell her to take it back!”
The filing deadline for the March primary was on December 18. That was three weeks away, plenty of time for a politician with her own ward organization to gather the 757 signatures necessary to appear on the ballot. The next morning, the Tribune reported that Palmer was “undecided” about reclaiming her seat.
Palmer’s husband was not alone in wanting to keep his wife in Springfield. State Rep. Lou Jones, an influential member of the Legislative Black Caucus, thought Palmer was too valuable to lose. The easiest way to avoid a fight, they figured, was to talk this young upstart Obama into stepping aside. Without Alice Palmer’s knowledge, Obama was summoned to a meeting at Jones’s house. Buzz Palmer was there, as were Timuel Black and Adolph Reed, who taught political science at Northwestern. These were elders of Chicago’s black community. They told Obama that he was a promising young man, but it was not yet his turn. The senate seat belonged to Alice. In Chicago, you get ahead by working your way up through an organization. If Obama stepped aside now, they would support him for another office down the road.
Obama shook his head.
“I’m not gonna do that,” he said.
He had made a deal with Palmer, and she had told him on Election Night that she wasn’t running. He’d opened a campaign office and collected thousands of dollars from supporters.
If anything, the sit-down made Obama more determined to stay in the race. He left Jones’s house livid at the condescending, bullying tone of the lectures he’d just heard. By the time he caught up with Harwell, he was still angry. It was one of the few times she’d ever seen him vent his emotions.
“They talked to me like I was a kid,” Obama sputtered. “They said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing.’ It was ‘Alice said this, Alice said that.’”
Since Obama refused to yield, a Draft Alice Palmer committee was formed. Headed by Black, it also included state Sen. Donne Trotter and one of Obama’s old supporters, Ald. Barbara Holt. The unexpected primary fight put many Hyde Park independents in a quandary. Obama and Palmer were both progressives. Both had been endorsed by the IVI-IPO in their races. They had to ask themselves which was more important: Palmer’s pledge to Obama, or her experience in Springfield.
“Like many, I supported Obama as a successor to Alice,” former IVI-IPO chairman Sam Ackerman told the Hyde Park Herald. “But now we don’t need a successor.”
A week after losing the congressional election, Palmer decided she would attempt to reclaim her state senate seat, and her supporters began collecting signatures. Suddenly forced to play hardball politician, Obama found a way to call Palmer an Indian giver without actually using that politically incorrect term. The primary, he predicted to the Herald, would be determined by how voters felt about his message.
“I’m not going to win because people feel Palmer went back on her word,” he said, using his rival’s last name, in case anyone thought they were still friends.
Privately, though, Obama was uncomfortable with the aggressive political maneuvers his locally born and bred supporters told him were necessary to defeat Alice Palmer. On December 18, Palmer filed her petitions. The next day, an old Hyde Park politico named Alan Dobry went downtown to the Board of Elections and began paging through the sheets. Dobry was a longtime supporter of Palmer’s. As 5th Ward committeeman, he had encouraged her to take the state senate seat, assuring her she could do more for education as a politician than as a non-profit executive. Dobry had even knocked on doors for Palmer during her congressional run. But he had also pledged to support Obama’s state senate campaign and he wasn’t going back on his word just because Palmer had lost her race for Congress. Hyde Parkers respected Dobry’s political judgment, so he’d look like a fool if he went around the neighborhood telling people, “Oh, we made a bad mistake. We’re going to do it differently and we’re not going to run Barack. We’re going to run Alice again.”
As an Obama supporter, Dobry felt obligated to do whatever he could to help his candidate win. In Chicago, challenging petitions is a tactic that goes back to the days when voters signed their names with fountain pens. Politicians pay good money to election lawyers who specialize in disqualifying signatures. As a member of an independent organization, Dobry had fought the Machine’s efforts to knock his candidates off the ballot. By answering their challenges, he had learned to raise his own. Now, he and his wife, Lois, were examining Palmer’s petitions, looking for mistakes. Right away, he found errors that suggested a hurried, slapdash effort. One sheet was filled with signatures from an adjacent district. On some petitions, entire households had signed, even though not everyone at the address was registered to vote. Dobry suspected Palmer’s campaign had enlisted students from South Shore High School, who had then gone out and signed up their friends. Palmer’s petitions contained 1,580 signatures, more than twice the number required to place her name on the ballot, but if these first sheets were any indication, there were enough duds to knock that figure below the minimum.
State Sen. Rickey Hendon was also at the Board of Elections that day, looking to knock off challengers for his own West Side seat. He wasn’t surprised to see the Dobrys – they were well-known political operatives – but he thought they were acting funny. When they left the room, he sidled over to peek at their papers and couldn’t believe what he saw.
Oh, Lord, Hendon thought. Alice Palmer.
Hendon and Palmer had become good friends in Springfield. They shared similar inner-city backgrounds and progressive politics. Hendon loved the fact that Palmer still behaved more like a schoolteacher than a politician – some days, she brought cookies onto the Senate floor. So he found a phone and called her at home.
“Alice,” he told her, “the Dobrys are down here going through your petitions.”
“But they circulated for me,” Palmer protested, recalling the couple’s support in her run for Congress.
“They are knocking you off the ballot.”
Palmer realized then that she had blundered. She had ignored that old Chicago maxim, “We don’t want nobody nobody sent.” Nobody had sent her Barack Obama. He’d been introduced by Brian Banks – a fellow Harvard man. As for the Dobrys, they were part of the Hyde Park political cabal. Like Harvard grads, Hyde Parkers always stuck together.
The next meeting of the IVI-IPO was scheduled for January 6. The Draft Alice Palmer Committee decided to make an appearance to insist the organization switch its endorsement. The meeting, held in the basement of a Lutheran church, was so acrimonious that a fistfight nearly broke out between Palmer’s supporters and allies of Toni Preckwinkle, who was still backing Obama. But the organization stuck by its original endorsement. This was far more important for Obama than for Palmer. He needed all the support he could get. If both candidates appeared on the ballot, Obama would be the underdog: a political novice with an exotic handle, running against an incumbent. Barack Obama sounded like a name adopted by one of those self-converted Muslims who ran their own storefront mosques and appeared on the public access TV show Muhammad and Friends in robes, beards, and kufis. Would voters see any difference between Obama and Gha-is Askia, the actual Black Muslim running for state senate? Realistically, eliminating Palmer was the only way to win.
At first, Obama was reluctant to challenge Palmer’s petitions. Harwell had spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s down at the Board of Elections and had come to the same conclusion as Dobry: Palmer’s sheets were full of errors and non-voters. But to Obama, knocking his patroness off the ballot seemed so crude, so brass-knuckled, so . . . . Chicago. He had learned his politics from the great anti-Machine movements: Saul Alinsky’s community organizing, the Hyde Park independents, and the Harold Washington crusade, represented by his boss, Judd Miner. Now, he was being asked to bump aside a 57-year-old schoolmarm, and win his first political office in a way that any thick-fingered hack might chortle about at the ward’s annual smoker. A Chicagoan wouldn’t have thought twice, but Obama was from Hawaii, a state that didn’t even get politics until two years before he was born. He was finally persuaded by Harwell, and field coordinator Ron Davis, who cut through Obama’s agonizing by growling, “The hell with this. The petitions are garbage.”
Obama went after all three of his rivals: Palmer, Ewell, and Gia-Askia. The Board of Elections agreed that none had collected enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Palmer had one last chance: if her supporters could collect 200 affidavits from challenged voters, affirming they had signed her petitions, the Board might approve her candidacy. Her campaign made an effort, but there wasn’t enough time to track down all those people before a January 17 hearing. Palmer withdrew from the race. Six months earlier, she’d been first in line to challenge a kinky congressman. Now, she’d lost her job to a 34-year-old rookie.
Years later, asked about his challenge to Palmer, Obama would say glibly, “I think the district got a pretty good state senator.” Palmer disagreed. She never forgave Barack Obama for taking her seat. She cursed out Brian Banks for introducing him to her.
“This was all a plot,” she insisted.
“Look,” Banks said. “You sat down with him and you gave whatever support you gave to him.”
Still, Palmer felt Obama had stabbed her in the back. Her onetime protégé was “a betraying ingrate,” she told friends. After leaving the Senate, Palmer resumed her academic career, going to work for the University of Illinois-Chicago, where she taught public affairs and was a special assistant in the Office of the President.
Palmer stayed out of politics until 2008, when she let the world know what she thought of Obama by campaigning for Hillary Clinton. She even went to the Democratic National Convention in Denver as a Clinton delegate. When the delegates were asked to nominate Obama by acclamation, Palmer didn’t raise her voice.