Not Included: An Oil Change We Can Believe In

By Al Kamen
Friday, January 16, 2009

President-elect Barack Obama's tricked-out Chrysler sedan is on the auction block, but it may cost eBay bidders upwards of $150,000.

Obama leased the steel-blue 2005 Chrysler 300C for three years before he turned it in 2007. The sports sedan is fully loaded, with a V-8 engine, a GPS navigation system, a sunroof, leather seats and chrome wheels. (New models start in the $35,000-to-$40,000 range.) Obama put just 19,000 miles on the ride before upgrading to a Ford Escape Hybrid, an environmentally friendly sport-utility vehicle.

Last February, a few months after Obama turned the Chrysler in, a Chicago restaurant manager was out car-shopping and unknowingly stumbled upon Obama's ride at Park Plaza Dodge in Forest Park, Ill.

"I bought the car and everything and after the fact when I was leaving the showroom, the salesman that was in there said, 'You better hang on to that car,' " Tim O'Boyle said. "I said, 'Why is that?' He said, 'It used to belong to Obama.' " "I couldn't believe it," said O'Boyle, who paid about $24,000 for the car. "It was immaculate. It was like brand new."

In the months since, O'Boyle hardly drove the car, and in December he decided to cash in on Obamamania. He auctioned the car on eBay. Bids started rolling in, soaring above $100,000.

But then he withdrew the auction because his accountant said he'd "be better off owning it for over a year for capital gains purposes."

With the one-year mark next month, the Obamamobile is back on eBay, with the highest bid now above $150,000. And there's more.

"There have been offers outside of eBay that have gone as high as $1 million," he said. "We're just trying to substantiate where they're coming from."

High bids are nothing new, however. During the primary campaign, someone bid $20,000 for a waffle and sausage that Obama ordered at a diner in Scranton, Pa. And in 2005, a Houston multimillionaire paid $690,000 for a light-blue 1975 Ford Escort once owned by the late Pope John Paul II.

This Time, With Extra Saccharin

One of our all-time Loop favorites, the extraordinary John Tanner, former head of the voting rights section of the Justice Department's civil rights division -- that's the division charged with protecting the rights of minorities -- is offering his "deepest apologies" to Mary Frances Berry, longtime civil rights leader and former head of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Tanner, when last we checked, was still on the department payroll and teaching in Alabama. An inspector general's report this week recounted an unfortunate e-mail he had written to a colleague. In a letter Tuesday to Berry, Tanner wrote that his e-mail response a few years ago to an offer to bring him coffee "included the very poor choice of words that I would like my coffee 'Mary Frances Berry Style -- black and bitter.' " Okay, but see, there was some context here, he said. This came after he watched "a highly contentious Civil Rights Commission hearing and shortly after hearing an African-American customer order coffee, 'Black and sweet, like me.' " (Not going to comment here, save to note that we're not making this up.)

In the letter, according to a copy he sent to Talking Points Memo, Tanner said the e-mail was "flippant" and "ill-considered" and "careless" and "inappropriate" and "not meant to be disrespectful of you." He added that "the term 'bitter,' of course, meant no sugar in the coffee, and was not meant as a reflection on you or your attitude towards a challenging situation."

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