The Obama You Don't Know | The Washington Examiner

Chapter IV

Chapter IV: For the slumlord's defense, Barack Obama, Esq.

September 19, 2012 | 12:00 am

Photo - via Getty Images and ap
A security company owned by now-jailed political fundraiser Tony Rezko sought help from Obama and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in an effort to gain a lucrative contract in Iraq, according to a report published 
in 2007.
via Getty Images and ap A security company owned by now-jailed political fundraiser Tony Rezko sought help from Obama and then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich in an effort to gain a lucrative contract in Iraq, according to a report published in 2007.

Writing in his 1995 autobiography, "Dreams from My Father," Obama said he became "a civil rights lawyer" because "to lend meaning to a community's suffering and take part in its healing -- that required something more."

There was indeed "something more" to Obama's legal career, but it wasn't civil rights litigation at the Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, where he was employed for a decade.

"He spent about half his time working with Bill Miceli and my former partner, Allison Davis, and that team," senior partner Judson Miner told The Washington Examiner. Most of the entries on Obama's client list for the firm from that period were in real estate, construction and finance.

Miceli and Davis were the partners in charge of the firm's housing and real estate practices. Davis would later leave the firm to join Obama mentor Tony Rezko in the real estate development business.

In March 1994, a year before "Dreams" was published, Obama was the lead defense attorney on an obscure case in Cook County Court that has heretofore escaped examination by the national media.

In this case, Obama defended a Chicago slumlord and powerful political ally who was charged with a long list of offenses against poor residents. The defendant was the Woodlawn Preservation & Investment Corp., controlled by Bishop Arthur Brazier, a South Side Chicago preacher and political operator.

Brazier's burgeoning real estate empire included a low-income housing project at 6223 South University. Today, MapQuest describes the Woodlawn neighborhood as "quaint and sedate." But in the winter of 1994, it was a frigid hell.

Brazier was closely allied with Obama and his firm, not least because Davis was on WPIC's Board of Directors. Davis was also the corporation's registered agent, and he received the court summons when the city filed suit on the South University apartments.

Brazier's WPIC had failed for nearly a month to supply heat and running water for the complex's 15 crumbling apartments. On Jan. 18, 1994, the day the heat went off, Chicago's official high temperature was 11 below zero, the day after it was 19 below.

Even worse, the residents were then ordered to leave the WPIC complex in the winter chill without the due process they would have been afforded by an eviction procedure.

In court documents reviewed by The Washington Examiner, Daniel W. Weil, commissioner of Chicago's Buildings Department, slammed WPIC for multiple municipal code violations, including "failure to maintain adequate heat," failure "to provide every family unit with approved heating facilities," and "failure to provide adequate" supplies of either hot or cold running water.

Things were so bad that the city's outraged corporation counsel declared that "the levying of a fine is not an adequate remedy" and asked the court for a permanent injunction against WPIC, appointment of a receiver and imposition of a lien on WPIC to pay for repairs, attorneys' fees and court costs.

But Obama did his work so well that in the end, on March 3, 1994, the court simply fined WPIC $50. Only then did Obama tell the court of the forcible removal of tenants in the bitter cold.

An experienced Chicago housing attorney who reviewed the case at the Examiner's request said $50 fines against politically powerful slumlords were not uncommon at that time. The lawyer, who currently works for the city, asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

The attorney termed the forcible removal of the residents in the frigid Chicago winter "outrageous," and said it looked like "a way to avoid a lengthy eviction process by law. And if the tenants had leases, they should have been bought out with a cash payment in return for leaving the premises early."

The South University apartments eventually became part of a real estate syndication deal that Obama helped negotiate. Brazier remained as the controlling general partner, while the syndicated investors became limited partners.

The merging of Brazier's insider contacts and influence with the limited partners' financial resources enabled them to benefit collectively from bigger, more profitable deals than they would have each been able to do individually.

A Chicago housing expert with direct knowledge of WPIC's real estate dealings told the Examiner that the syndication deal involving the apartments likely was being negotiated when the building lost heat.

"The property was one of five or six that was bundled together into a partnership and syndicated with tax credits," he said. It was a "prelude to being put into the partnership, which it ultimately was for purposes of the refinancing and syndication."

The WPIC case illustrates how Obama functioned at the center of a historic accommodation then developing between the Daley machine and its traditional opponents among the city's liberal reformers.

Lubricating the deal was a flood of public and nonprofit federal and state tax credits and funding for low-income-housing projects that would enrich developers and empower ambitious politicians like Obama, at the expense of taxpayers and, especially, the poor.

Brazier was not merely an Obama legal client. A disciple of Chicago's famous radical activist Saul Alinsky, Brazier was also a close political ally of Daley's and one of the key movers and shakers among the city's progressive political elite who in the years ahead would advance Obama at every turn.

Obama also did legal work involved in the establishment of four Brazier-Rezko limited partnerships: Woodlawn Partners Ltd., Central Woodlawn Partnership, KRMB Limited Partnership and Woodlawn Drexel Ltd. Partnership. Rezko is now serving a 10-year federal prison sentence for fraud and attempted bribery on state government contracts.

The former Obama firm still represents WPIC, as well as Brazier's church, the Apostolic Church of God, and his Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization. Brazier's son now oversees the properties.

As Brazier clung to life in 2010 in a Chicago hospital, Obama called him from the White House for what relatives described as an extremely tearful farewell.

Shortly after Brazier died, Obama issued a statement saying of the man he had once helped put 15 poor families on the street in the dead of winter:

"There is no way that we can replace the gentle heart and boundless determination that Bishop Brazier brought to some of the most pressing challenges facing Chicago and our nation."

Next: Chapter V: Obama's toughest critics on the left

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From the Weekly Standard