Obama and the Illinois Political Machine

The Associated Press
Monday, February 26, 2007; 2:22 PM

CHICAGO -- Democrat Barack Obama piled on the praise last month as he stood beside Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and embraced the mayor's bid for a sixth term.

"I don't think there's a city in America that has blossomed as much over the last couple of decades than Chicago, and a lot of that has to do with our mayor," Obama said, supporting Daley ahead of Tuesday's city election.

It was a switch from a year earlier, when the Illinois senator brushed off questions about endorsing Daley and said reported corruption at Chicago's City Hall gave him "huge pause."

What happened in the meantime? Obama decided to run for president.

The endorsement is one example of the sometimes complicated relationship between Obama _ who offers himself as an untainted, non-traditional alternative _ and Illinois' sometimes tarnished political establishment.

While Obama prides himself as an independent-minded Democrat, he's maintained relations with important parts of the establishment, from remnants of the legendary Chicago Democratic machine to the city's leading black politicians.

Yet as an outsider who came to the city as an adult, he doesn't owe his political fortunes to ward bosses and can claim distance from the political corruption for which the city is famous. He's ruffled feathers in the past by taking on incumbents or bucking his party's anointed candidate in a statewide race, but he has also mended fences and now has Illinois' most important politicians lined up to support his run for president.

"He understands ... about politics and how you make friends in politics," said Rep. Bobby Rush, who Obama unsuccessfully challenged in 2000 for his seat in Congress.

Rush said Daley, for one, can be helpful to Obama because of his national reputation. Daley's brother, William, who headed Al Gore's presidential campaign in 2000, has already signed on as an Obama adviser.

Rush is also backing Obama's bid for the White House.

Growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, Obama didn't come up through the ranks of traditional Chicago Democratic politics.

Obama writes in his book "The Audacity of Hope" that he got into his successful first race for the Illinois Senate at the encouragement of friends who thought his work as a civil rights lawyer and experience as a community organizer made him a good candidate.

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