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The Ones Obama Left Behind

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The Ones Obama Left Behind
The Ones Obama Left Behind

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ARLINGTON, VA - MARCH 7: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks with advance placement U.S. history students during a visit with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Wakefield High School March 7, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia, This is Prime Minister Gillard's first trip to the United States since becoming Prime Minister. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool via Getty Images)

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When I read that N’DIGO publisher Hermene Hartman told Chicago magazine that Barack Obama has forgotten his old hometown supporters, the complaint sounded familiar.

Barack is not necessarily loyal. In Chicago politics, that’s rule number one: be loyal; dance with the one who brought you. I see that as a key trait. I see Rahm having it. Rahm is very appreciative and very thankful. I was very loyal to Barack, but he has not been loyal to some of the people who were there for him from day one. That’s my personal disappointment in him. Did you outgrow us, or did you forget?

Hartman, who connected Obama with the car dealer who loaned him $50,000 to launch his U.S. Senate campaign, told me the same thing when I interviewed for my book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President. And she wasn’t the only one. In his rise to the presidency, Obama left behind a lot of old allies who are miffed that they didn’t get taken along to the White House.

Steven Rogers, a Northwestern University business professor, complained about Obama’s treatment of Jim Reynolds, a financier who introduced Obama to the black business community when he was trying to repair his reputation after losing a Congressional primary to Bobby Rush.

“Do you realize that Jim took a bus to the inauguration?” Rogers fumed. “Jim was not in the inner circles whatsoever. But that's all right. They had a falling out two years ago when Obama started showing his ass, and telling Jim to contact his people. But that’s Obama modus operandi.”

(The Springfield campaign volunteer who helped Obama deliver his Senate nominating petitions had the same experience, when Obama told him to stop calling his cell phone and start calling his staff.)

Toni Preckwinkle considered Obama an ungrateful SOB. Preckwinkle backed Obama for state senate and Congress when he was an unknown politician. Obama turned around and gave most of his state senate menu money to another alderman who was closer to Mayor Daley. Preckwinkle got back at him by refusing to appoint Will Burns, Obama’s chosen successor, to his state senate seat.

Dan Shomon, Obama’s legislative director in Springfield, was pushed aside by David Axelrod's crew once Obama ran for the U.S. Senate. When Shomon advertised his association with Obama to lobbying clients, Obama rebuked him publicly.

Alan Dobry, the former 5th ward committeemen, told me about Obama’s habit of using and discarding political allies.

“There were a number of people who worked for Barack in the early days, then found Barack was working with a different group of people,” Dobry said. “They felt kind of squeezed out.”

All politicians use people. It was said of Bill Clinton that “he’s there when he needs you.” Obama accomplished one of the greatest social climbs in American history: he arrived in Chicago knowing nobody, and left 23 years later as president of the United States. As an outsider to the city, he has no deep ties here, which probably helped when he became a national politician. A man raised in the system of favors and cronyism that defines Machine politics would have had a hard time selling himself outside Chicago, as Rahm Emanuel will find out if he tries to run for president.

Beyond that, Obama is just not a warm and sociable guy. He’s a natural loner who thinks of people as colleagues, not friends. As a young community organizer, he spent all his time in his apartment, reading heavy history books. A White House aide called him “the most unsentimental man I’ve ever met.”

All his life, Obama has been focused on the next step in his career. And that’s meant leaving a lot of people behind.

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