Obama 1996 Election Controversy

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Barack Obama ran for the Illinois state senate in 1996. He was initially supported by incumbent Alice Palmer, who declared she would run for the U.S. Congress. However, when her bid for Congress failed on November 28, 1995, she tried to run for her old seat in the March 1996 election. Her supporters asked Obama to step aside, although whether this was with her permission remains uncertain.[1] Not only did Obama not step down, he gathered a team of high-priced lawyers, including fellow Harvard Law School graduate Thomas Johnson, to challenge his opponent's petition signatures on technicalities after the filing deadline had passed. Such tactics are legal and frequently used in Chicago; in 2006 they eliminated 67 of the 245 aldermanic candidates;[2] yet nevertheless led to the term "hardball" by the New York Timesand "cutthroat" by David Mendel as reported by both CNN[3] and MSNBC.[4] The Chicago Tribune declared Obama had mastered "the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics", noting "The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it." As one of Obama's four opponents, eliminated through his ballot challenges, would put it:

"Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run scot-free? Why not let the people decide?"
-Gha-is Askia, 1996 Illinois Senate candidate[5]

Mark Ewell, another candidate, filed 1,286 signatures, and Obama's challenges left him 86 short of the minimum requirement (757).[6]) Ewell filed a federal lawsuit contesting the election board's decision but Tom Johnson intervened, and Ewell's case was dismissed just a few days later. Ewell and other Obama opponents were using early 1995 polling sheets to verify signatures of registered voters, but city authorities had just purged 15,871 unqualified people from the 13th district list, and Obama's challenges used the more recent, updated list. Askia was left 69 signatures short of the requirement. If names were printed instead of signed in cursive, they were declared invalid. If they were good but the person registering the signatures wasn't a registered voter (e.g. underage) they were invalid.[7] Palmer had according to Obama campaign consult Ronald Davis, used two children to help gather her petition signatures. To this day Palmer denies the challenges were valid, and maintains she could have overcome the objections with more time and resources. Thanks to his lawyers, Obama would win the election without a single other candidate on the ballot.

References

  1. Scott, Janny (2007, July 30). "In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd." New York Times.
  2. Jackson, David & Long, Ray (2007, April 4). "Barack Obama: Showing His Bare Knuckles." Chicago Tribune.
  3. Malveaux, Suzanne (2008, August 20). "Barack Obama Revealed." CNN.
  4. MSNBC (2008, February 20). "Obama Becomes Rising Star Among Democrats."
  5. Jackson, David & Long, Ray (2007, April 3). "Obama Knows His Way Around a Ballot." Chicago Tribune.
  6. Spivak, Todd (2008, February 28). "Barack Obama and Me." Houston Press.
  7. Griffin, Drew & Johnston, Kathleen (2008, May 29). "Obama Played Hardball in First Chicago Campaign." CNN.
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