Wednesday, September 30

Barack Obama and the family of William Ayers

Not long after posting the following entry I heard an interview with Newt Gingrich on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, a syndicated radio show aimed at the 'black community.' Newt described bipartisan efforts to improve America's schools and had high praise for Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama's Secretary of Education.

I've stated before on this blog that it's my firm belief that if not for Steve Diamond sounding the alarm last year there would have been a very different education secretary, one whose views reflected those of William Ayers's.

Although Steve's warnings were suppressed by the mainstream media during the presidential campaign, he is a well known figure in labor union circles. He is also well known to Obama's circle, and particularly known for his tenacity.

So while Arne Duncan is not perfect, next to what could have been in charge of American public education reform he is a fortunate pick.

But now to turn back the clock, to before Barack Obama came to the White House --


From Who "sent" Obama? by Stephen Diamond, originally published April 22, 2008:
In Chicago politics a key question has always been, who “sent” you? The classic phrase is “We don’t want nobody that nobody sent” -- from an anecdote of Abner Mikva’s, the former White House Counsel (President Clinton) and now retired federal judge. (And someone I campaigned for while in high school when he ran, unsuccessfully, for Congress in the early 70s.)

As a young student, Mikva wanted to help out his local Democratic Party machine on the south side of Chicago. In 1948, he walked into the local committeeman’s office to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson and Paul Douglas and was immediately asked: “Who sent you?”

Mikva replied, “Nobody sent me.”

And the retort came back from the cigar chomping pol: “Well, we don’t want nobody that nobody sent.”

So it is reasonable to ask, who “sent” Barack Obama? In other words, how can his meteoric rise to political prominence be explained? And, of course, in an answer to that question might lie a better understanding of his essential world view. When I started looking at this question a few weeks ago I quickly grew more concerned about the kinds of people that seem to have been very important in Obama’s ascendancy in Chicago area politics. It is the connection of some of these people to authoritarian politics that has me particularly concerned. And a key concern of this blog has been the rise of authoritarian tendencies in the global labor movement.

The people linked to Senator Obama grew to political maturity in the extreme wings of the late 60s student and antiwar movements. They adopted some of the worst forms of sectarian and authoritarian politics. They helped undermine the emergence of a healthy relationship between students and others in American society who were becoming interested in alternative views of social, political and economic organization. In fact, at the time, some far more constructive activists had a hard time comprehending groups like the Weather Underground. Their tactics were so damaging that some on the left thought that government or right wing elements helped create them. There is some evidence, in fact, that that was true (for example, the Cointelpro effort of the federal government.)

Today, however, many of these individuals continue to hold political views that hardened in that period. Many of them have joined up with other wings of the late 60s and 70s movements, in particular the pro-China maoist elements of that era and are now playing a role in the labor movement and elsewhere. And yet this question of Obama’s links to people from this milieu has not been thoroughly explored by any of the many thousands of journalists, bloggers and political operatives looking so closely at Obama.

The most recent effort was by Jonathan Kaufman in the Wall Street Journal, who argued that a critical connection for Obama was his links to some in the wealthy and prominent Jewish community in Chicago. This article contains some important insights and is well worth reading. But, I think Kaufman gets it wrong.

So, who did “send” Obama? The key I think is his ties not to well connected uber lawyer Newton Minow, as Kaufman suggests, but more likely to the family of (in)famous former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers – not just Bill Ayers, but also Bill’s father Tom Ayers and his brother John as well. [...]
On Friday Stephen Diamond sent me his latest post on his King Harvest blog, which detailed his interview with a retired postman, Alan Hulton. Mr Hulton claimed to have had a conversation with Barack Obama outside the home of William Ayers's parents that Steve judged must have taken place in the mid-1980s.

Hulton's account contains a startling claim that if true might place Barack Obama's relationship with William Ayers much further back than he's admitted to the press, and which at the least suggests Obama had more than a casual relationship with the Ayers family.

As I have mentioned many times on this blog, Steve Diamond's professional credentials are impeccable. And his life-long involvement with Democratic and Leftist politics, and his native-born Chicagoan background, give tremendous weight to his analyses of Barack Obama, his Leftist associations, and the Chicago political mileu in which Obama moved.

What follows is my exchange with Steve after he asked what I thought of his post about Hulton.

I think Hulton's account has merit; I doubt he'd have any reason to lie and he seems a credible witness. So, in light of all I know about the Ayers-Obama relationship, I am willing to give the account the benefit of the doubt.

Yet the account could be challenged by asking why Hulton's memory wasn't jogged earlier. Hadn't he seen a photograph of Obama when he became a U.S. senator from Hulton's home state and then became a national political figure even before the presidential run?

There are plausible answers to the question and equally plausible ones about why Hulton couldn't remember the month or even make a good estimate as to the year during which he had the conversation with Obama. Plenty of people can remember conversations in great detail from decades earlier without being able to remember the year in which the conversation took place.

On the other hand, plenty of people can't remember the exact details of a conversation they heard only 15 minutes before. And people can also unconsciously 're-do' what they remember, if the recollection makes better sense to them rephrased, or to bring their recollection in line with other information.

That's why police immediately separate eyewitnesses when arriving on the scene of an accident or crime and question them individually out of earshot of the other witnesses. They know a witness who sounds very assured in his recollection of the event can influence the other witnesses' recollections.

So it is open to question as to whether Hulton's recollection of the conversation is accurate in all details. Yet the more one knows about the Obama-Ayers relationship, which includes the speculation that they knew each other as far back as Obama's days at Columbia University, the more one is willing to consider Hulton's account, which I assume is your viewpoint.

However, if we exclude those who suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome, I think the general reader coming to the Obama-Ayers subject for the first time would want considerable background before appreciating the key part of Hulton's account, which is that Obama was at the Ayers home to thank the family for supporting his education.

So I was on the fence about posting your interview without first writing a lengthy introduction, which frankly I haven't had time or inclination to do.

The big question is whether Hulton's account, even if perfectly accurate in all details, has importance beyond a footnote to the history of the 2008 political campaign.

Given that Bill Ayers's father was a pillar of the Chicago business community and that Bill was a respectable member of the academic establishment by the time of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge project, I'd never understood why Obama went to such lengths to hide his working relationship with Bill Ayers.

Hulton's account suggests that the real reason Obama created a smokescreen had less to do with Bill Ayers's past as a terrorist and more to do with the Ayers family mentoring his entire professional career. If that were true it would overturn the narrative Obama created about how he rose in politics.

And it would mean you were on the money last year when you answered your own question about who "sent" Obama by suggesting it was the Ayers family.

After I read Hulton's account I re-read your Who "sent" Obama? post and Jonathan Kaufman's April 21, 2008 profile of Barack Obama for the Wall Street Journal, which your post was meant to answer.

After reading Kaufman's piece at this distance from the presidential election campaign, for the first time it struck me how influential his profile of Obama must have been during the campaign.

Steve, Kaufman sold Obama to Democratic Jewish voters as the kind of gentile who was practically Jewish -- the kind they would be happy to invite to Shabbat lunch. And by emphasizing Obama's connections with wealthy, influential Jews in Chicago, Kaufman not only tamped down concerns that Obama was a radical who didn't like Israel, he also positioned him to the entire American business community as a capitalism-friendly centrist.

The kicker is that Jonathan Kaufman, who had been a business writer with The Wall Street Journal for 15 years, is now the Education Editor at Bloomberg News. I learned that when I visited his website after re-reading his piece on Obama. Yet if you look at Kaufman's resume you'll see there is nothing in his career or educational background that would suit him to write on education issues.

I don't know when Kaufman got the new job or the circumstances under which this happened. What I do know is that the mainstream media preferred to entertain Kaufman's portrayal of Barack Obama rather than the disturbing questions you raised.

Even Fox News Channel, which during the presidential campaign harped on Obama's relationship with Bill Ayers and Ayers's terrorist past, didn't drill down to the complex questions about the American education establishment that Obama's relationship with William Ayers represented, and which Sol Stern and you brought out in April 2008.

By the time FNC turned their attention to Obama's involvement with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, it was far too late in the presidential campaign for them to do the education angle justice, even if they'd had the inclination. Or perhaps they didn't want to overturn a rock that hid just as much about Republican complicity with Ayers's educational ideas as the Democratic support.

I dunno, Steve. The truth was out there on the blogosphere as early as April 2008 about Ayer's educational ideas and Obama's support of them. And you certainly made the mainstream press cognizant of the issues. But people believe what they want to believe. The reality is that many American voters wanted to believe in the narrative Obama presented about himself.

On that grim note, and after looking over what I've just written, I think I'll get off the fence by publishing this letter as an introduction to your interview with Hulton.

One question: Can you give any background on how and when you came in contact with Hulton? Did he approach you after reading one of your pieces, or did you hear about him?


Very thoughtful analysis and thanks for the background on Kaufman.

Alan Hulton posted a comment last week on a conservative blog (something like the 347th comment) saying he had met Obama. It mentioned he was a mailman and I thought it sounded real so I emailed him and he responded. We set up a phone call and I spoke with him for close to two hours taking careful notes.

Barack Obama’s Visit to the Other Ayers’ House
By Stephen Diamond, September 25, 2009

Barack Obama visited the house of Tom and Mary Ayers, parents of former Weather Underground activist turned education professor Bill Ayers, in the mid-1980s to thank the Ayers’ for their support of his “education,” according to Alan Hulton, the letter carrier who delivered mail to the Ayers’ Glen Ellyn home at that time. Glen Ellyn is a suburb of Chicago, southwest of the city.

Hulton spoke to King Harvest at length about his experience.

It is acknowledged widely now that Bill Ayers and Obama had a close and longstanding relationship because of the role that Ayers played in promoting Obama’s career including, for example, Ayers’ appointment of Obama as Chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the $150 million education reform effort that Ayers founded in 1994. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn held a campaign event in their Hyde Park home for Barack Obama in late 1995.

This blog has also suggested, however, that Obama may have had a relationship with Tom Ayers in light of the importance of the senior Ayers in Chicago politics and his role in the same educational issues as Obama. In 1988 Obama’s Developing Communities Project (the “DCP”) joined the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools (“ABC’s”), a lobbying alliance, to push for the reform of Chicago schools through the creation of so-called “Local School Councils” (“LSC’s”) that would watchdog teachers and administrators.

The proposal was very controversial and groups like Operation PUSH headed by Jesse Jackson did not support it because many teachers were black –- it was one of the first stable middle class careers a black person, and black women in particular, could aspire to in Chicago. Tom Ayers and Bill Ayers were strong supporters of the LSC’s, however, and Chicago United, a group founded by Tom Ayers, joined ABCs too. Bill Ayers became chair of ABCs.

In addition, a senior Democratic party activist who was involved in the Obama campaign including direct contact with Obama confirmed that the relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers went back to the 1980s, the time period of Hulton’s encounter outside the home of Tom Ayers.

The Obama Presidential campaign denied any close ties between Obama and Bill Ayers and said initially they only met in late 1995 when Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn hosted the event in support of Obama’s campaign for the Illinois State Senate. They later admitted the two had to have met earlier in light of the role both played at the Annenberg Challenge.

As President, Obama has not yet been asked about the Ayers relationship and has, as far as one can tell, never been asked about his relationship with Tom Ayers. Most recently, credible evidence has emerged that Bill Ayers ghostwrote the Obama memoir Dreams from My Father, which was published in 1995. [1]

The statement by Hulton is the first eyewitness account of a possible relationship between Obama and Tom Ayers and the first that dates his relationship with the Ayers family to the mid-1980s.

At the time of their encounter, Hulton recalls, Obama “looked about 19 years old” but was probably in his early 20s. Obama graduated from Columbia University in 1983 and moved to Chicago in 1985 at age 24 or 25 to head up the DCP, a fledgling community organization modeled after similar groups started by Saul Alinsky, on the south side of Chicago. The DCP had secured a grant from the Woods Fund, endowed by the Woods family, to finance the hiring of Obama.

The Woods family owned Sahara Coal Company, which supplied coal to utility companies in the Midwest possibly including Commonwealth Edison. Tom Ayers was Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison from 1973 until 1980. Ayers died in June of 2007 at the age of 92 in Hyde Park where he had been living with his son Bill and Dohrn.

“Mrs. Ayers told me that her family had been helping out a brilliant young black man,” Hulton said and whom he believes she said was from Kenya. Hulton said that over the period of six to ten years that he delivered mail to the Ayers home he had numerous conversations with Mrs. Ayers, one conversation with Thomas Ayers and several brief encounters with Bernardine Dohrn who he said lived at the home for several months at one point in time. He never met or saw Bill Ayers at the home.

Hulton explained that he knew Tim Ayers, the son of Tom and brother of Bill, when they were both students at Glenbard High School, which draws students from the towns of Glen Ellyn and Lombard, Illinois. Over time the Ayers’ parents became aware of the connection to their son Tim and that led to a friendlier relationship between Hulton and Tom and Mary Ayers.

“They tipped me generously at Christmastime,” Hulton recalled.

One day Hulton found himself on the sidewalk outside the Ayers home at 199 N. Montclair Avenue near the corner of Revere Road just after he had delivered the mail. The house was “very nice and attractive and more expensive than some in Glen Ellyn because it was closer to downtown, but it did not stand out among the houses on that block.” He said the largest and most expensive homes were actually on Revere, around the corner from the Ayers’ home.

As Hulton was on the sidewalk walking away from the Ayers house a tall and thin young black man was coming up the same sidewalk towards the Ayers house.

Hulton recalls that Obama said hello and introduced himself and stopped to chat with him in front of the Ayers house. “I recall that his ears stuck out a little bit. He was more gaunt then than he appears now. His name was an unusual one and when I saw his photo during the campaign it brought back my memory of the event,” Hulton said.

Mr. Obama explained that he had taken the train out from Chicago to visit the Ayers’ in order to thank them for their help with his “education.” At this time, Mr. Obama had recently graduated from Columbia and would soon enter Harvard Law School. Hulton and Obama “spoke for a few minutes, first chatting about the Ayers family,” Hulton said. Hulton said he did not learn whether the help Obama received from the Ayers’ was financial or in some other form.

Hulton said it was an exceptional event to encounter a black man on his route and that Obama may have felt it prudent to introduce himself to the letter carrier before approaching the Ayers house. Hulton usually delivered mail on Montclair at mid-day, “sometimes as early as 11:30 in the morning or as late as 12:30 or 1:00 PM.”

Hulton says he recalls when the very first black family moved into the upper middle class white suburb in the 1960s. Hulton says at the time, after he had come out of military service, he was a supporter of Martin Luther King who had pressed for fair housing in the Chicago area. “I took some flak about my support for civil rights from my fellow workers at the time,” he said.

Mr. Hulton recalls that he probably asked what Mr. Obama was studying in school and at one point Mr. Obama said that he intended to become President of the United States. Mr. Hulton said he was “taken aback” by the statement but recalls that he did not think Mr. Obama was “arrogant, but just self assured and a person with a lot of self confidence.” “It was not said with hubris,” Hulton recalled, “but with an air of self-assuredness.”

“I told him there was no reason why he couldn’t become president,” Hulton recalled. Obama was dressed “nicely but casually, a slacks and shirt, not jeans and a t-shirt, but definitely not a coat or tie,” he said. After the brief conversation Hulton continued on his route and did not turn back to see whether the Ayers’ were at home or whether Obama entered their house.

Hulton delivered mail in Glen Ellyn for 39 years with two years off to serve in the U.S. military. He retired in 2001 and is now 66 years old. King Harvest confirmed his employment as a letter carrier with Ray Wasz, Finance Supervisor of the Glen Ellyn Post Office.

Hulton said he encountered Tim Ayers at a high school reunion recently where Tim spoke in a “wide eyed way” of Bernardine Dohrn’s career as a law professor. “She is a star and her students love her,” Hulton recalls Ayers saying.

Dohrn is a member of the law school faculty at Northwestern although she was prevented from becoming a member of the New York bar because of her criminal record and background in the Weather Underground. Hulton said that Mrs. Ayers told him that her husband Tom was trying to help Dohrn become a member of the bar.

Dohrn and Ayers surfaced from the underground and turned themselves into the authorities in the early 1980s. Charges against Ayers were dropped and Dohrn entered into a plea bargain that allowed her to avoid jail time.

But later she was jailed for six months for her refusal to testify in front of a grand jury about her possible role in providing false identity cards to several former Weather Underground comrades who participated in a bank robbery where two police officers and a security guard were killed.

Mrs. Ayers told Hulton that she and her husband had been in contact with their son Bill and Bernardine while they were underground using “code” to communicate. “They had ‘ways to communicate’ she told me,” Hulton said. Hulton encountered Dohrn three or four times during his time as the Ayers’ letter carrier because he had to confirm that she lived there and secure her signature for certified mail deliveries to her at the Glen Ellyn home. Hulton said Dohrn was never friendly with him but rather “was a sourpuss, she never smiled.”

Hulton had one encounter with Tom Ayers who politely asked Hulton about his work. Hulton said he told Ayers that he thought there were problems with the senior management of the Post Office and that he wasn’t always happy about the work habits of some of his fellow workers.

“You know, ordinary gripes about work,” Hulton recalls. “I couldn’t believe how he responded. He started to talk about workers having to struggle to survive and about peasants and the proletariat. It made me think later that he might be a Marxist!”

1) See also Steve Diamond's September 28, 2009 post, Did Bill Ayers Really Write Obama’s Memoir "Dreams from My Father?"

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