Did you know that now-convicted fixer Tony Rezko, who funneled $250,000 in campaign contributions to Sen. Barack Obama from his initial campaign onward, got his start as a big-time Chicago operator back in the early 1980s through … the Nation of Islam?
Fat Tony, of course, is neither Black nor Muslim—he's a white Christian immigrant from Aleppo, a famous Syrian rug-trading souk.
The Black Muslims are also notoriously anti-Semitic—but not when it came to their friend Tony Rezko, whose partner in Rezmar, the notorious government-subsidized slumlord racket, was Daniel Mahru, who is Jewish.
But that's the kind of town Chicago is—diverse, vibrant, tolerant … as long as you've got clout and are willing to put aside petty differences and play ball with others with clout to mutually defraud the public.
Chicago sits at the conjunction of America's two great watersheds, the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, which made it the transportation hub of the nation by the Civil War. Even today, the convenience of direct flights from O'Hare make the Chicago area central to American corporate life. The ample amount of money that can be extracted from businesses before they finally resolve to flee Chicago means that the city has always been a politician's paradise.
I'm still amazed that I only found out about Rezko's decades-long relationship with the Black Muslims last week. It showed up in the obituaries of Jabir Herbert Muhammad, the son of Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad of evil memory, whose followers assassinated his rival Malcolm X in 1966.
Jabir's funeral was quite a success. Both current Nation of Islam boss Louis Farrakhan and The Champ, Muhammad Ali, were in attendance.
Malcolm had converted the young Cassius Clay to Elijah's race-baiting Islamic heresy in the early 1960s. In 1964, however, Elijah excommunicated the dangerously charismatic Malcolm and installed his own son, Jabir, as Ali's business manager. The energetic Rezko, who had arrived in Chicago from Syria in 1974, went to work for Jabir in the 1983 and was soon managing the ex-champ's business affairs.
Rezko, sadly, was unable to make the memorial service because he's been busy at Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center since his conviction on 16 counts in June.
And there had been some recent unpleasantness between Jabir and Tony. The Chicago Tribune reported recently:
"Muhammad also was once a close associate and business partner of convicted political fundraiser Antoin "Tony" Rezko, but that relationship ended badly and is now the subject of a lawsuit alleging trusts set up by Muhammad were looted…"[Muhammad Ali's longtime manager remembered, By James Kimberly, August 30, 2008]Jabir's suit claims that Tony embezzled from him his Kenwood mansion, which is located not far from Barack's Kenwood mansion, the 2005 purchase of which Tony apparently subsidized.
Strikingly, the Nation of Islam in particular and Chicago black politics in general were Rezko's launching pad for his decades-long takeover of quite a bit of the government of the State of Illinois.
James L. Merriner wrote in Chicago magazine in November 2007:
"When Harold Washington was running for mayor of Chicago in 1983, Rezko held a fundraiser after Jabir Herbert Muhammad, who was Muhammad Ali's business manager, urged him to get involved in the campaign. Subsequently, Rezko also joined Ali's entourage, traveling the world with him for five years. Rezko apparently took little interest in boxing—he says he and Ali did watch a few matches together—but he relished putting together business and endorsement deals for the champ."[Mr. Inside Out]I bet he did. A rich punchdrunk pugilist and Tony Rezko—what could possibly go wrong? In the 1990s, Ali's latest wife forced out both Jabir and Tony.
Strange as it seems, the relationship between Rezko and the Black Muslims is not unique. Chicago-based columnist Ray Hanania of the Arab Writers Group explained:
"Like many Arab Americans, Rezko had close ties to the Nation of Islam, which sympathized with the Palestinian and Arab causes. He became close to the inspiring icons like Muhammad Ali and even young Obama, a little-known state legislator who later rose to stardom."Rezko is representative of a recent trend in Chicago politics: the rise of Arab wheeler-dealers as corruption catalysts.
The elites of the African-American and Arab communities may tend to agree on foreign policy. But down on the street, relations are hostile. The Arab immigrants, who are best known in Chicago as middle-man merchants operating liquor stores and the like in the ghetto, much like the Koreans in South Central Los Angeles at the time of the 1992 riots, are too hated by black voters to win political power for themselves through the ballot box. Hence their leaders tend to play shadowy roles in Chicago politics.
Rezko kept a sharp eye out for upcoming black political talent who could provide a politically correct front for him. Rezmar offered Obama a job in 1990. He didn't take it, but that was the beginning of a long and mutually beneficial friendship between Rezko and the man who is now the Democratic Presidential nominee. Rezko paid for 15 percent of Obama's first campaign, and Obama looked out in the state senate for Rezko's interests in low-income housing and in packing the state's hospital construction board.
Contract set-asides for minorities provide a lucrative opening for crooks like Rezko. The demand for "diversity" provides an excuse for a thumb on the scales, a justification for diverting the contract from the lowest bidder to a political ally who employs a minority frontman. Most of America's pundit class hasn't figured this out yet, but Rezko grasped how "diversity" works soon after getting off the plane. (Indeed, multicultural America is becoming ever more like the Ottoman Empire, giving an advantage to immigrants from old Ottoman mercantile minorities.)
Chicago explained: "Rezko ran Jabir Muhammad's firm, Crucial Concessions. Under Mayor Washington [remember that fundraiser?], Crucial won the concessions to sell food at city beaches."
Now I know why Chicago beach concession food in the 1980s was so untasty. The municipal hot dog stands were managed by the Nation of Islam and Tony Rezko!
Muhammad and Rezko worked the same minority set-aside scam with several high-grossing Panda Expresses at O'Hare airport. The Chicago Sun-Times reported on March 17, 2005:
"Two restaurants at O'Hare Airport have been allowed to rake in millions of dollars, even though the Daley administration learned back in 2002 that the company running them was probably a phony minority "front" for Panda Express and Antoin "Tony" Rezko, a top fund-raiser for Gov. Blagojevich. Crucial Inc. won the O'Hare concessions in part because it was certified as a minority-owned business. Its largest shareholder was listed as Jabir Herbert Muhammad, son of the late Nation of Islam founder, Elijah Muhammad. … The [Chicago minority contractor] program has been tarred by a relentless string of scandals…"[City ignored possible O'Hare 'front' for years, By Chris Fusco, Fran Spielman And Michael Sneed]Jabir and Tony also got a $10 million affirmative action contract from SBC, the giant phone company whose president was William Daley, Mayor Richie Daley's brother, to run the payphones at the Cook County jail. Their designated owner-operator was a twofer under the quota of 35 percent of contracts reserved for minority and women-owned businesses: a black woman named Deloris Wade, although she happened to be dead.
"Rezko became a virtual one-man headhunting firm for staffing the Blagojevich administration, sending along recommended candidates, many of whom ended up getting appointments. … (The U.S. attorney here has charged that Rezko schemed to pack the government with his cronies so that they could peddle their influence.)"Diversity sensitivity also provides a convenient justification for corruption:
Blagojevich said he sought Rezko's
"advice on recommendations for agency directors for two reasons. Number one, I had every reason to think he was honest and independently successful in business and that he was able to bring us people who were not part of state government before. And he has connections and roots in the African American community, and he could help us with candidates . . . because part of what we wanted to do was to have a diverse administration."This spider's web of connection is baffling to outsiders trying to understand what Obama really believes in.
You can trace his Chicago network to all sorts of unsavory folks: Rezko, terrorists, Farrakhan, the various Daleys, Jeremiah Wright, Manson Family fans, Jesse Jackson, billionaire Iraqi swindlers, Emil Jones, and so forth. One of Obama's donors is the former Iraqi Electricity Minister Aiham Alsammarae, who broke out of prison in the Baghdad Green Zone where he was locked up for stealing hundreds of millions. Alsammarae now lives in the Chicago area, where he put up $2.8 million to help bail Rezko out of jail.
What's the common ideological thread unifying all these gruesome guys?
Consider Michelle Obama. She's been close friends with Jesse Jackson's family since girlhood. Yet, her father was a precinct captain in Mayor Richard J. Daley's Machine and she went to work for Richard M. Daley as a fixer when she washed out of the legal profession in the early 1990s.
The Jacksons and the Daleys were, nominally, enemies during a series of black vs. white mayoral elections in the 1980s and 1990s. In the long view, however, the Jacksons and Daleys are colleagues in their mutual profession of using politics to bilk money and clout from the public.
Think of the Illinois power structure as a pyramid. At the bottom are the voters. Above them are the ethnic activists, like Obama was on the South Side back in the 1980s. Ethnic relations are pretty frosty at the bottom, but much chummier toward the top of the heap, where the big boys engage in a perpetual conspiracy to betray their respective constituencies for their mutual benefit.
Why don't the voters turn the rascals out? Because no one ethnic group can afford to unilaterally disarm in the struggle for government boodle. Your racial leaders may be pocketing much of what they get in your name, but without their connections and time-tested stratagems, your group would be completely despoiled by the other groups' veteran politicians.
So, to echo an old story about FDR, while your leaders may be sonsabitches, at least they're your sonsabitches.
Overall, the Obamas fit right in to this civic tradition. This isn't to say that Barack Obama utterly lacks an ideology. He's a complex, sophisticated man and he may well have private goals more ambitious and/or alarming than those of the average Chicago politician.
Yet Obama is a Chicago politician—make no mistake.
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