President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden wave at his election night party Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Chicago. President Obama defeated Republican challenger former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
At his White House press conference on Monday, President Obama responded to criticism that he doesn’t socialize enough with congressmen by saying, “Most people who know me, I’m a pretty friendly guy -- and I like a good party.”
That’s not what the members of the Developing Communities Project, the group Obama led in the 1980s, thought of him. They thought their organizer was an ascetic grind who worked 80-hour weeks, never ate any food more substantial than a spinach salad, and spent the weekends locked inside his bare Hyde Park apartment, reading thousand-page books about the civil rights movement.
Which was why they were so surprised when he threw a great party.
Obama had just hired a new assistant, Johnnie Owens, whom he was grooming as a successor. Owens would take over the DCP when Obama went to Harvard Law School.
One of Owens’s first meetings with the DCP was a training session at a hotel in the south suburbs.
“Barack, how did you even find this place?” Loretta Augustine, the DCP’s president, asked when they pulled up in Obama’s Honda. “You musta worked really hard. This place is away from everything. Why are we here?”
“I wanted to eliminate all the distractions,” he said.
That was certainly in character for Barack, Augustine thought.
“However,” he added. “At the end of training on Saturday night, we’re going to have a party.”
That was not the Barack she knew. Augustine couldn’t wait to see Obama party. After the training session, Obama actually ate a full dinner, then set up a portable stereo and slotted in a tape of his beloved R&B. Owens tried to bust his chops.
“Barack, what you doin’ out there on the floor?” he chided. “You know that ain’t the place for you.”
“What?” Obama shot back. “Who said I can’t dance? I’ll bust all y’all out.”
He threw his hand over his head, and spun it like he was twirling a lasso. Yeah, their director could write a funding grant, and get a bureaucrat down to Altgeld Gardens. But he could dance, too.
That session was memorable not because of anything Obama said that day, but because of what he did. It was the only time anyone in the DCP ever saw him party.
Most of America will see him party the weekend of January 19, when the president makes the rounds to various inauguration parties, at which, he's expected to dance.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.