Obama Then and Now

Re: “What Makes Obama Run?” by Hank De Zutter, December 8, 1995

I wrote this article in 1995 and continue to be amazed at how similar the Obama then was and is to the Obama of the present. A few observations:

1. Some people wonder about his relationship with Alice Palmer—the state senator who gave him her blessing to run for her seat while she pursued a Congressional seat.

This article was written before she contradicted herself and went back on her promise to let him run for her seat even if she lost the congressional race, and before she tried to get her seat back; she even filed petitions to get back on the ballot. This happened after I wrote this article.

Though she asked him to step aside so she could get her seat back, Obama refused to step back and instead challenged her petitions—as well as those of other candidates—and went on to win the Democratic nomination for the state senate seat. He did this despite considerable pressure from Palmer’s supporters to get him to back off. In other words, he did not stab her in the back—he just tried to get her to honor her word.

2. He said absolutely nothing about Rev. Wright or Michael Pfleger in this article—although several right-wing analyses of this article have tried to use this piece to show how strong Obama’s links were to the two south side clergymen.

3. The Senate seat that Obama sought at this time was in a district that was predominantly African-American. His comments and concerns with empowering and developing the African-American community reflect this reality. —Hank DeZutter

If the ZBA Worked

Re The Works by Ben Joravsky, October 30

Venue shopping for a zoning change is described in the first part of this week’s column.

Something that’s not currently allowed under current zoning can always be accomplished by a “map change,” that is, through the City Council Zoning Committee route, but sometimes the same thing can be permitted as a “special use” using the Zoning Board of Appeals route.

One thing that’s unusual about this particular incident is that it reverses the normal course of venue shopping: an alderman does through City Council what might more easily be accomplished through the ZBA. An alderman woos a developer with “Why take a chance with the Board? I can guarantee your outcome.” From a citizen’s point of view this results in more map dynamics and more permissive zoning than we need, campaign contributions, and reinforces incumbency in City Council.

Other things being equal, theoretically speaking, we citizens of Chicago should in general prefer the ZBA route to the Zoning Committee route when possible. A special use has less impact on our zoning map, it is more specific, it can have fewer unintended consequences. Also administratively I would hope a ZBA hearing is cheaper overall than the full City Council ordinance thing. Of course, we need the ZBA to work, with real notice, and offer a real public hearing. —Hugh

Chicago Architecture’s Hangers-on

Re “The Museum That Works” by Deanna Isaacs, October 23

As far as I can tell, CAF volunteers do a great job, but architecture is popular everywhere. With all due respect, I would argue that the growth in the number of tours given by CAF docents can be directly traced to the growth in the public’s interest in architecture; not the other way around. Every major national magazine regularly covers architecture. Should CAF take credit for that, too? The spin CAF puts on its services is laughable. What they do is commendable, but the organization has followed, not created, the interest. In fact, they are far behind compared to other cities. All the same, why a museum or center, if it’s the tours that are the clear strength? Not with my tax dollars, thanks.


Due to an editing error, Renaldo Migaldi’s Critic’s Choice on Mavis Staples (October 30) incorrectly identified the band leader of openers Booker T. & the M.G.’s; he should have been identified as Booker T. Jones.