Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Daley family, the Ayers family, and the Land of Coincidences

Mountie Captain: I do not approve of your methods!
Ness: Yeah, well... You're not from Chicago.
The Untouchables, 1987.

The only thing wrong with George Stephanopoulos asking Barack Obama about his relationship to ex-Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers during Wednesday night's debate is that...well, nothing was wrong with it, at least in my opinion.

Except that no reporter had bothered to ask Obama about it until then.

The liberal blogs are still aghast about the whole incident, and to varying degrees, many mainstream voices have denounced what's being called a smear campaign.

On the surface, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's statement on the affair is surprising.

There are a lot of reasons that Americans are angry about Washington politics. And one more example is the way Senator Obama's opponents are playing guilt-by-association, tarring him because he happens to know Bill Ayers.

I also know Bill Ayers. He worked with me in shaping our now nationally-renowned school reform program. He is a nationally-recognized distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago and a valued member of the Chicago community.

I don't condone what he did 40 years ago but I remember that period well. It was a difficult time, but those days are long over. I believe we have too many challenges in Chicago and our country to keep re-fighting 40 year old battles.

Under Daley's leadership, Chicago's public schools, once tagged as the worst in the nation by then-Secretary of Education William Bennett, have improved immensely. I hear that from CPS teachers, administrators, and from parents with kids in the schools.

But there is something else the mayor will remember. Ayers' father was Thomas G. Ayers, the head of Commonwealth Edison, which was then Chicago's electrical utility. Just as Obama and the younger Ayers are, in the words of Obama aide David Axelrod, "friendly," so were the elder Daley and the senior Ayers.

Here is an excerpt from the Chicago Sun-Times obituary of Thomas Ayers, who died last year at the age of 92, courtesy of Kim Allen's blog, one of his granddaughters:

Former Commonwealth Edison Chairman and CEO Tom Ayers was many men -- a prominent player in the cultural, social and economic advancements of Chicago.

He was the Chicago establishment, serving on the boards of Sears, G.D. Searle, Chicago Pacific Corp., Zenith Corp., Northwest Industries, General Dynamics Corp. of St. Louis, First National Bank of Chicago, the Chicago Cubs and the Tribune Co.

Mr. Ayers also was an agent for change, negotiating between Mayor Richard J. Daley's administration and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s open housing campaign in the mid-1960s, and developing the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities to fight racial discrimination in housing.

Tribune Company? Served on the board? Didn't the Chicago Tribune back Daley's defense of Obama regarding the unrepentant Ayers? Funny, but the paper's editorial (free registration required) two days ago didn't mention that Tom Ayers had ties to the Trib.

Let's dig around some more. From the blog of former Students for a Democratic Society member Mike Klonsky:

Back in the day Tom Ayers was the Chairman of Commonwealth Edison and a fixture in the civic life of Chicago. He was always a man pulled between his role as a representative of big business and advisor to the Daley machine (emphasis mine), and his basic values of equity and fairness. My earliest memory of Tom is from the summer of 1966 the year I first came to Chicago. The city was the site of fierce battles over, what was then called, "open housing." Dr. King had led a march that was met by hateful, racist mobs. Richard J. Daley, Chicago's "shoot-to-kill" mayor, hated the "outside agitators" who were coming to "his" city and told all who would listen there were "no slums" in Chicago. He also refused to meet with Dr. King.


Eventually a 10-point agreement was signed committing Daley and the city to enforce its 1963 open housing ordinances and Daley agreed to work for state open housing legislation.

Thomas Ayers was chairman of the 19-person committee that drafted the agreement.

Klonsky knows what he's talking about, he has collaborated with Bill Ayers on several projects over the years, and the duo, along with Gabrielle Lyon, of A Simple Justice: The Challenge of Small Schools.

So while it would appear on the surface that Richard M. Daley picked William Ayers, well, out of the air, to help guide the reform of Chicago's school system; upon a closer look, in a city like Chicago, where people get ahead on who they know and who they are related to, Daley's selection made a lot of sense.

One more item: Ayers' wife, fellow ex-terrorist Bernardine Dohrn, is a law-professor (without a licence to practice law) at Northwestern University--since 1991. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but Thomas Ayers served as the Chair of the Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1986 at the prestigious college. He was named a Life Trustee in 1987.

I'm fifth-generation Chicago-area resident. This part of the country is the land of coincidences.

Related posts:

Dem debate: Bill Ayers' prime time moment

SDS' 1968 Tragical History Tour

Special thanks to Tom Mannis of The Bench, without whom I would not have heard of Mike Klonksy.

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Great post, John. Keep 'em comin'.

Anonymous said...

John, I'm a Chicago boy who's movin' home this summer after 15+ years elsewhere.
My friends ask me about Obama and Rezko, and Wright, and Ayers, etc...

I tell them you CAN'T really understand.

That its just the Chicago way.

TM Lutas said...

You might be amused to note that while Bill Ayers has his own Wikipedia page, his father does not...yet. From what I'm reading, the father is much more notable than the son.


Boston Patriot said...

Excellent stuff John; these are the issues the MSM doesn't bother to explore.

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