Barack Obama has a new entanglement with unrepentant Weatherman Bill Ayers which I detail below. The gist is this - back in the mid-90's Bill Ayers was instrumental in the creation and early operation of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an effort committed to the reform of Chicago's public schools. Barack Obama was Chairman of the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which suggests he worked closely with Ayers for several years.
Yet in his recent nationally televised appearances and at his website, Obama fails to mention this Ayers entanglement. Why so coy? It's hard to believe he actually forgot his executive role in this important foray into public policy; that said, the Chicago Challenge foundered on the hard rocks of Chicago politics and was widely viewed as ineffective, so perhaps he would prefer not to highlight his failure to bring people together and produce real change.
Or maybe Obama was a do-nothing figurehead who honestly forgot that Bill Ayers was running the show. Awkward spin, that. In any case, there is also a question of shared values. Ayers brings a highly progressive approach to education - dare we ask whether Obama shares his values?
Details and plenty of background links after the break.
With Ayers, two themes are emerging:
(1) It's not the crime, it's the cover-up - why can't Obama manage to deliver a clear answer about his relationship with Ayers? It has long been reported that they both sat on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago. We now also know that Ayers helped found the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund, with Obama as the first Chairman of the Board. We also know that Obama, Thomas Ayers (Bill Ayers father) and John Ayers (Bill's brother) all served on the Leadership Council of the Chicago Public Schools Education Fund (described here as "the successor" to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge project).
... a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.
In Philadelphia, it was left to Hillary to mention the Woods Fund board overlap.
And on Fox News, Obama seemed utterly hazy as to what board he was on with Ayers, offering this:
Now, Mr. Ayres [Ayers] is a 60 plus year old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was six or seven years old. By the time I met him, he was a professor of education at the University of Illinois.
We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education, who worked for Mayor Daley. Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley probably who when he was a state attorney prosecuted Mr. Ayres’s wife for those activities, I (INAUDIBLE) the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago, because I serve on a board with him.
Baffling - neither the Woods Fund of Chicago nor the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund could reasonably be described as working for Mayor Daley; the Leadership Council of the Chicago Public Schools Education Fund fits that description, but it was the elder Ayers and the other Ayers who served with Obama on that board. There is a theory that Obama is pretty tight with the Ayers family, so maybe that caused his confusion.
Finally, the Obama website presents a "Fact Check on Clinton Attacks on Obama and Ayers" which makes no mention of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Fund. OK, given the fame of Annenberg's FactCheck organization, maybe this was a subconscious cry for recognition. But where is the transparency?
(2) The second emerging theme in this Ayers drama is, what about shared values? OK, so Barack was eight years old when Ayers was blowing things up. But Ayers brings a very, hmm, progressive mindset to his educational agenda, or so I glean from the Ayers website (or this panel presentation). So, does Barack share these views? Seems like a fair question, since Ayers helped found a group Barack promptly chaired.
We have moved a long way past the notion that Ayers was just some guy from Barack's neighborhood who happened to host a fundraiser for him in 1995 and later overlapped with him on a charity board. How much farther this story will move, and how much assistance Barack will provide in moving it, remains to be seen.
C'MON - I enjoy this drollery from the hardworking and surely underpaid chaps at Hot Air:
The obvious exit question: How closely did Obama and Ayers work together at the Challenge? It may be that they had little contact, that Ayers’s role ended in setting the thing up and he was sufficiently uninvolved in day to day operations that Obama sincerely forgot he was associated with the program.
Obama is a bit young to be having memory problems; surely he anticipated an Ayers question and gave the topic some thought. And in fact, he did describe an education-related board, not the Woods Fund board.
THIS WILL BECOME IMPORTANT: Some history of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge:
Having secured Annenberg funding for Chicago, the working group would soon evolve into a more formal organization, albeit with strong ties to the groups that wrote the grant proposal. Initially run out of shared space in the offices of the Cross-City Campaign and administered through an existing philanthropic organization called the Donors Forum, the Chicago Challenge soon became its own new foundation with status as an independent fiscal agent. By late 1995, Ken Rolling had been named executive director, a board of directors had been established, and the first round of grants had been awarded. Rolling lacked experience in education but came from the foundation world and was well-versed in community organizing. The board, which was intended to set policy, raise matching funds, and hire an executive director, included prominent educators and business leaders. A second entity, the newly-created Chicago School Reform Collaborative, was also established. Its twenty-plus members were elected from the group of educators and advocates who had helped shape the grant proposal. Initially, at least, this offshoot of the working group functioned as the operations arm of the Chicago Challenge. However, this situation created procedural and ethical concerns and in time the Collaborative was transformed into an advisory body.
Ayers was one of the three original leaders of the working group and eventually co-chaired the Chicago School Reform Collaborative (see his resume). His early involvement:
When three of Chicago's most prominent education reform leaders met for lunch at a Thai restaurant six years ago to discuss the just-announced $500 million Annenberg Challenge, their main goal was to figure out how to ensure that any Annenberg money awarded to Chicago "didn't go down the drain," said William Ayers, a professor of education at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Ayers, who was at that lunch table in late 1993, helped write the successful Chicago grant application.
The point is that Ayers led the way in securing the Annenberg grant, then co-chaired the Collaborative, which was instrumental in the operation of the Chicago Challenge. It is not likely Barack Obama, as chair of the Board of Directors of the Challenge, was not working closely with the co-chair of the collaborative. At any rate, it is not at all plausible that he could have been unaware of Ayers' role and later forgotten it.
I see trouble in paradise as "Hope and change" morphs to "Hope we can change the subject."