University Hides Obama Records From Media
by Mark Impomeni
The University of Illinois at Chicago finds itself in the middle of a growing controversy over the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which it maintains at its Richard J. Daley Library.
Sen. Barack Obama served on the Annenberg board of directors from 1995 until the project ended in 2001, spending three years as its first chairman. It was on the broad of the Annenberg Challenge where Sen. Obama served with the notorious former head of the 1960's radical group, William Ayers. The Annenberg Challenge was founded by Ayers and was responsible for administering a private grant of nearly $50 million to Chicago public schools.
Journalists researching Sen. Obama's background as he prepares to accept the Democratic Party's nomination for president have been seeking to get a look at the records. But the Daley library has refused, after initially agreeing to make the records public, claiming that the donor of the material has not given permission for the records to be viewed by the press.
The documents could shed more light on the relationship between Obama and Ayers. Obama is known to have visited Ayers' home at least once, attending a fund raiser there; and is believed to have gotten his start in Chicago politics in part with Ayers' blessing.Asked yesterday about the controversy over the records, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, son of the late mayor Richard J. Daley for whom the library is named, dismissed concerns over Obama's ties to Ayers, saying that Ayers' radical days are behind him.
"Bill Ayers-I've said this-his father was a great friend of my father. I'll be very frank. Vietnam divided families, divided people. It was a terrible time of our country. People didn't know one another. Since then...[Ayers] has been in the forefront of a lot of education issues and helping us in public schools and things like that.People keep trying to align [Ayers] with Barack Obama. It's really unfortunate. They're friends. So what? People do make mistakes in the past. You move on. This is a new century, a new time. He reflects back and he's been making a strong contribution to our community."
The Obama campaign has said in the past that Obama and Ayers were "friendly," implying a past relationship. Daley's comment indicates that the two remain friends.
If the records indicate a deeper or an ongoing relationship between Obama and Ayers, it would be a major problem for the Obama campaign. Ayers and the Weather Underground are responsible for a spate of terrorist bombings in the waning days of the Vietnam War, including against the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon. Ayers was never convicted in connection to the bombings because his case was thrown out on an evidence gathering technicality, and he has never publicly repented for his alleged actions. As recently as September 11, 2001, in an op-ed published by the New York Times, Ayers said that he did not regret setting the bombs. "I don't think we did enough," he said.
The Obama campaign has said that it has no control over the records or the University of Illinois library that is keeping them sealed. But Obama has based his appeal on his superior judgment, and questions about his relationship to an unrepentant terrorist cast a dark cloud over that judgment. Questions will persist until the records can be reviewed. The Obama campaign would do well to publicly call for the records to be opened, and allow for the press to report on their contents.