NY Times Confirms Ayers’ Role in Obama Appointment as Chair of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge

I can easily understand why some readers may have become confused by the explosion of stories today on the Obama/Ayers relationship.

The partial story of the Ayers/Obama relationship told by the New York Times today is collapsing of its own weight but has likely added to the confusion. Since I am one of the “bloggers” referred to without an explanation in the Times’ story I thought I would summarize the top ten highlights of the current state of play.  

It turns out as these ten key points confirm what I have argued all along – that Bill Ayers was responsible for the elevation of Obama to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge board and the New York Times reporting on this story actually supports my conclusion, though inadvertently.

1) The key question is whether Bill Ayers had a role in the selection of Barack Obama to become Chairman and President of the $160 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a multi year school reform effort started in 1995.

2) This is the key question because if it is true that Ayers played a role in Obama’s selection it indicates that Ayers and Obama had a pre-existing relationship.

3) If Ayers and Obama did have a pre-existing relationship it undermines claims by the Obama Campaign that the relationship between Ayers, an authoritarian political figure who once engaged in bombings to implement his politics, was “tenuous” or “casual” and that Ayers was just a neighbor of Obama’s in Hyde Park.

4) I believe that Obama and Ayers shared a similar world view with respect to education issues, at least. For example, during their time together running the Chicago Annenberg Challenge they supported funding for groups like the Small Schools Workshop and Local School Councils. These groups were criticized as engaging in “teacher bashing”  by union activists and as a “political threat” to school principals by Arnold Weber, a fellow Annenberg board member.

5) I have presented evidence here at Global Labor that Ayers did in fact play a direct and personal role in Obama’s elevation to the CAC board. This evidence consists of letters exchanged at the time of these events between the national Annenberg Challenge led by Vartan Gregorian, the President of Brown University, and Bill Ayers, on the one hand, and between Gregorian and Adele Simmons, President of the MacArthur Foundation, an advisor to Ayers, on the other. 

Those letters state clearly that Ayers was actively engaged in the board selection process in November and December of 1994.
I described those letter to the Times when asked about this and provided them copies.

6) I also argued that these letters are consistent with the legal responsibility Ayers had as the representative of the recipient of the $50 million Annenberg Challenge grant.

7) According to the Obama campaign and now according to emails I have received from the New York Times, Ayers had “nothing” to do with the selection of Obama for the board Chairmanship. 

They claim that according to Deborah Leff and Patricia Graham that only Leff and Graham recruited and nominated Obama, respectively. However, in their published story the Times did not quote Leff to that effect. Neither did the Obama campaign in its statement on the matter. I have asked the Times for clarification.

8) If Leff and Graham current recollection is true then the written contemporaneous documentation I provided to the Times (letters to and from Vartan Gregorian and Ayers) appears to be contradicted and this leads to a very odd conclusion: that Leff, a lawyer, and Graham went around the back of the legal representative of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (Ayers) to recruit and nominate the CAC board Chairman (Obama).

Why would they have done that? In fact, I do not think they did.

9) In August of 1994, Leff wrote a letter to Brown’s Gregorian lauding Bill Ayers for his leadership in organizing the grant application and said that her Joyce Foundation was awarding $80,000 to his Annenberg working group, the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, to continue their work to secure and establish the Annenberg program. This Collaborative was the group which Ayers represented when he submitted the final Annenberg grant application in November.

Thus, as of August, 1994, Leff’s Joyce Foundation also recognized officially that Ayers was the formal agent for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge applicant, the Collaborative, and they were financially aiding him in that effort.

In addition, letters from the Governor of Illinois, the Mayor of Chicago, the Superintendent of the Chicago school system, the Executive Director of the Woods Fund, the Executive Director of the Polk Bros. Foundation, the Chancellor of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Council of Chicago Area Deans of Education all sent to Vartan Gregorian acknowledge the leading role of Ayers and/or the Collaborative he formed in the formation of the Annenberg Challenge.
10) To accept the story 14 years later of the Times and the Obama campaign requires us to conclude that Leff, unilaterally against her own board of directors (which in November added Obama), went around the back of Bill Ayers to impose on him secretly Barack Obama as the chair of the Annnenberg Challenge! That is a remarkable conclusion – and of course one that is not yet backed up by Leff herself!
Why not? Most likely because Leff as a lawyer understands now as she did then that whatever her personal role in the selection process, the legal power that Ayers possessed, as the agent of the CAC grant recipient – the Collaborative, to either reject or accept Obama as CAC Board Chairman was clear.
Thus, while Ayers may not have suggested the Obama name directly to Leff, only Ayers could approve of the appointment of Obama. No one else possessed the legal power to do so.
At their November meeting together, Ayers may have delegated to Leff, Ayers and Simmons the task of recruiting a pool of potential board candidates but only he could give the final approval – a condition of the Collaborative’s receipt of the grant, as set forth in the exchange of letters between Gregorian and Ayers. 
There are any number of ways that Ayers could have gotten Obama’s name into the mix.
For example, how did Leff think of Obama? Perhaps because Ayers had suggested his name to Simmons – an old friend of Leff’s from their days at Princeton – who passed it on to Leff without telling Leff that the name came from Ayers. Perhaps because Ayers had first suggested Obama to Leff for the Joyce Foundation board earlier in 1994 and then it occurred to Leff that Ayers would approve of Obama for the CAC as well. 
Or perhaps when Ayers asked Leff to help with the selection process he provided her with clear guidance on the kind of board chair he wanted: someone young, dynamic, a lawyer, with a background of supporting the CAC agenda of school reform, and someone who represented, as committed by Ayers to Gregorian, the racial and ethnic diversity of Chicago. There were actually very few, if any, such individuals in Chicago other than Barack Obama, in light of the hostility of mainstream black organizations to the CAC agenda.
Or perhaps Leff, Simmons and Graham came up with several names and only when Obama’s was finally mentioned did Ayers grant his approval.
It does not really matter how Obama’s name got into the mix because in the end only Ayers had the legal authority to approve of Obama, whether or not Leff, Simmons and Graham understood that, much less the New York Times. Only if the Collaborative had revoked Ayers power to represent them, could that have changed. Of course, the opposite happened – they made Ayers co-chair and he represented the Collaborative at the board meetings of the CAC itself once it was established in March, 1995. 
Actually, the Times indirectly confirms this explanation when it quoted Ben Labolt that Ayers and Obama met for lunch, after Obama met with Graham.  Since LaBolt says this was the “first time” Ayers and Obama met, this lunch must have taken place before the CAC’s first board meeting in March of 1995. Although it is undoubtedly true that Ayers and Obama met long before this, that is legally sufficient evidence under basic agency law principles that Ayers approved of Obama as the board chair.

[Of course, the Times refused to discuss the written record that fills in this story, apparently because they did not understand what they were looking at (unless one wants to conclude that they are operating as part of the Obama campaign).]
To test this proposition, ask what would have happened if Ayers, as the legal agent of the CAC grant recipient had said after that lunch, no, I do not want this person for the board? Leff, Graham and Simmons would have had no choice but to go back to the drawing board. They were only agents of Bill Ayers, the legal representative of the Collaborative, for the purpose of recruiting potential board members. They had no legally cognizable ability to impose a choice on Ayers and the Collaborative. This is true no matter what Graham or others may have thought when they told the Times that Ayers was not involved.
The individual with the legal power to overrule a decision is the person with the actual decision making authority.  
That was Bill Ayers and his decision was: Barack Obama.