The Obama You Don't Know | The Washington Examiner

Chapter V

Obama's toughest critics on the Left

September 20, 2012 | 12:07 am
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Photo - Obama’s toughest critic on the Left, the late Robert Fitch, charged that Obama’s most trusted aide, Valerie Jarrett, made a fortune as a real estate developer. Fitch, a radical leftist and freelance journalist who specialized in urban politics  and economics, said Obama surrounded himself with people who got rich on Chicago’s $1.6 billion neighborhood demolition program known officially as the Plan for Transformation.
Obama’s toughest critic on the Left, the late Robert Fitch, charged that Obama’s most trusted aide, Valerie Jarrett, made a fortune as a real estate developer. Fitch, a radical leftist and freelance journalist who specialized in urban politics and economics, said Obama surrounded himself with people who got rich on Chicago’s $1.6 billion neighborhood demolition program known officially as the Plan for Transformation.

Barack Obama's carefully constructed image as a civil rights lawyer who wanted to heal the black community was greeted with skepticism by some Chicago activists.

"I never drank the Kool-Aid about Barack Obama," veteran Chicago black activist Eddie Read told The Washington Examiner. Read is president of the Black Independent Political Organization, one of Chicago's largest black community groups.

Read -- who describes himself as a "black nationalist" -- said Chicago streets are filled with genuine "street gangsters" and phonies known as "studio gangsters." The latter are impersonators who make money acting in studio-produced rap videos.

The same dichotomy is found among Chicago's street activists, Read said. "So what you get from me is I'm still up in the air on whether or not my brother Obama was a real activist or a studio activist."

Robert Stark, director of the liberal Harold Washington Institute for Research and Policy Studies, told the Examiner that the demolition effort required to clear the way for the new affordable-housing projects advocated by Obama was disastrous for low-income blacks on Chicago's South Side.

"Obviously, when you're talking about the demolition of housing, there has been a great deal of controversy because poor people were not given an opportunity to come back to the housing that replaced the demolished housing," said Stark, whose institute is based at Northeastern Illinois University.

Wardell Lavender is a tenant activist who has lived in the Woodlawn section of Chicago since 1951. "We don't know what happened to those people," Lavender told the Examiner. "What we didn't do was keep track of them because a lot of them ended up homeless."

Obama's toughest critic on the Left, however, was the late Robert Fitch. Fitch, a radical leftist and freelance journalist who specialized in urban politics and economics, said Obama surrounded himself with people who got rich on Chicago's $1.6 billion neighborhood demolition program known officially as the Plan for Transformation.

At least 25,000 low-income apartments in Chicago were destroyed under the program, which forced thousands of black families -- many of whom lived in Obama's state Senate district -- to move out of the city. Obama's political allies directed the effort.

"What we see is that the Chicago core of the Obama coalition is made up of blacks who've moved up by moving poor blacks out of the community," Fitch charged in a 2008 speech before the Harlem Tenants Association. Fitch died in 2011.

Fitch claimed in that speech that Obama sold out to a corrupt Chicago establishment. "Obama's political base comes primarily from Chicago FIRE -- the finance, insurance and real estate industry," he said.

"It's also true that key black members of the Obama inner circle are Daley administration alumni, but they've moved up -- now they're part of Chicago FIRE," he said.

Fitch singled out Obama's most trusted aide, Valerie Jarrett, as one who stood out among those who made fortunes as real estate operators. Jarrett once worked for Mayor Daley, then later became CEO of the Habitat Co., one of the city's largest real estate development firms.

Fitch also criticized Martin Nesbitt, Daley's former head of the Chicago Housing Authority and vice president of Pritzker Realty. Like Jarrett, Nesbitt is among Obama's closest personal friends.

Also in Fitch's cross hairs was Allison Davis, Obama's law firm boss who built a real estate empire by dealing in low-income housing with business partner Tony Rezko, Obama's mentor who is now serving a federal prison sentence.

In that 2008 speech in Harlem, N.Y., Fitch also blasted Chicago church leaders who he said profited on the poor. Chief among these "real estate reverends," as Fitch called them, was Bishop Arthur Brazier.

Brazier, a close Obama confidant and law client, ran the crumbling Grove Parc project alongside his Apostolic Church of God. Jarrett, Davis and Rezko were all involved with Grove Parc. Grove Parc is still owned by WPIC but has more recently been managed by the Project on Affordable Housing, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that obtains large, multifamily properties and refinances them for long-term affordability.

Three weeks after Obama won the 2008 election, Fitch warned his Harlem audience about "hope and change," saying, "we have to make some distinctions between the change they believe in and the change we believe in; between our interests and theirs."

Michael Hudson, a real estate economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was Fitch's editor at the Village Voice. He said Fitch despised Chicago political insiders like Obama, who, he argued, became wealthy while cloaking themselves as reformers.

"Bob Fitch's basic premise," Hudson told the Examiner, "was to show that the reform Democrats always have been the pro-financial real estate interests to do insider dealings. They are people who wear halos when in fact they are predators."

Hudson said Fitch thought the Plan for Transformation was a con game. "The essence of a con game is to pose as you're doing a public service. That's the cover story for getting the public money both to redevelop buildings or to get rid of all the tenants."

Obama's political endorsements also worried liberal reformers concerned about good government. Cynthia Canary, former head of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, recalled Obama's endorsement of corrupt officials like the imprisoned Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Chicago City Council members.

"The thing that startled me," she said, "was when Obama made endorsements of certain City Council members and people who we already knew were in trouble," she told the Examiner.

Next: Chapter VI: The poor people Obama left behind