Obama ties to Ayers reach back to 1980s

New evidence that the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers reaches back to the 1980s surfaced today. 

In 2008 I was one of the first to blog (Who “sent” Obama?) about the important and longstanding relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers, a founding member of the terrorist organization known as Weather Underground. I pointed out then that Ayers appointed Obama as Chairman of the board of directors of the education reform group known as the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) in 1995. David Remnick of The New Yorker later confirmed this fact in his biography of Obama. This appointment was a critical step in the career of Obama who went on later that year to run for state senator, his first political office, a campaign that he launched at an event held at the Hyde Park home of Bill Ayers and Ayers’ wife and Weather Underground comrade Bernardine Dohrn.

I also noted that given the importance of the Annenberg appointment that Ayers would never have appointed Obama unless he knew Obama was an ally in the ongoing “Chicago School Wars.” Those Wars were taking place between three key groups: the Daley Administration which wanted to centralize control of the Chicago schools in the Mayor’s office, the Chicago Teachers Union which wanted to protect the wages, job security and working conditions of its members, and a loose coalition of reform groups of which Obama, and three members of Ayers’ family, including Bill, his brother John and, earlier in his life, their father Tom, were a part.

Each of these three groups jockeyed for position and for for the nearly $50 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation. (A fuller description of the three way conflict can be found here.) Ayers led the reformers’ successful effort to secure that grant and set up the Annenberg Challenge in late 1994 and early 1995. Ayers (together with Anne Hallett) exchanged letters in 1994 with the Annenberg Foundation’s representative, Vartan Gregorian of Brown University, confirming that Ayers was working to assemble a board of directors for the Challenge. Obama joined the Challenge board in the spring of 1995.

Only if Obama had proven himself to Ayers would Ayers have appointed Obama to the board. The latest evidence confirms that, despite the denials by The Times and the Obama campaign, the relationship between Ayers and Obama reaches back as far as 1987 when education reform burst into a major political issue in Chicago. In the spring of 1987 Barack Obama lobbied the mayor of Chicago at that time, Harold Washington, to set up a “local control” education reform effort that would include Bill Ayers’ brother John on its advisory board.  Obama wrote the mayor as Executive Director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP) a position Obama held for three years prior to attending Harvard Law School.

The Daily Caller has obtained copies of two letters written by Obama, one to Washington and one to an aide of the mayor, as well as an attachment to the second letter listing the proposed board members. The list includes the name of John Ayers, as well as that of the black nationalist minister Jeremiah Wright and the controversial and radical white Chicago priest Michael Pfleger. Also on the 1987 list is Anne Hallett, then with the Wieboldt Foundation, who would co-author with Bill Ayers the proposal to form the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in 1994.

John Ayers, now head of the Cowen Institute at Tulane, shares the same passion for education reform as his brother and his late father.  He became a participant on behalf of business groups in the push for local control and later for the charter school movement, which was a natural evolution from the local control and small schools approach advocated by Bill Ayers and his former SDS comrade Mike Klonsky.

Despite this background, Obama supporters, including The New York Times, maintained that Ayers had no serious connection, if any, with Obama and that Ayers played no role in the selection of Obama to chair the Annenberg Challenge. Although I was interviewed 5 times by The Times and provided them this background, they ignored this information and published a long page one story by Scott Shane that repeated the Obama campaign position that Ayers had no role in the appointment of Obama to the Annenberg entity.

I also interviewed and reported on the fact that the mailman who delivered mail to the home of Bill Ayers’ parents had met Obama outside that home in the 1980s.  That mailman also spoke to me about a conversation he had during the 2008 campaign with Tim Ayers who vigorously defended his brother Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn.

It made sense to me that the relationship with Ayers would reach back that far because in 1987 the DCP played a very active role in the loose coalition of groups referred to above interested in pressuring the Teachers Union and the Mayor’s office to institute reform of Chicago schools.  The primary goal of the DCP and many in this coalition was a variation on the theme of “local control” – an attempt to involve parents and surrounding communities in local schools.

“Local control” is widely viewed as hostile to teachers’ unions because it can become an easily manipulated source of pressure on teachers and principals without any rational basis in education policy.  In fact, Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky were explicit about their interest in influencing schools through this method and the Annenberg Challenge money was used to do this. Some education policy figures, such as Dorothy Shipps, view “local control” as undemocratic because it prevents district wide transparent and accountable reforms.

Local control first emerged as a part of the ideology of black nationalists and elements within the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, in the 1960s.  SDS was the left wing antiwar student group that fell apart in the late 60s and gave rise to, among other sects, the terror group Weather Underground. SDS and black nationalists advocated local control and opposed the teachers union in a bitter strike in New York City in 1968.  Some SDS members went so far as to scab during the strike.

Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky were leading members of SDS then.  Ayers later helped found the Weather Underground and Klonsky became a hard core Maoist.  Klonsky along with Ayers became an active backer of Obama. Klonsky hosted a blog on educational issues on the official Obama campaign website in 2008 that was deleted once the maoist background of Klonsky was discussed during the campaign.

In 1980, Ayers and his wife Dohrn surfaced from hiding during their Weather Underground days and turned themselves into authorities. They avoided jail time for their terrorist activity but Dohrn was refused admission to the bar despite graduating from the University of Chicago law school. She was able to reinvent herself as a “law professor” of sorts and is now a member of the law school faculty at Northwestern University. Bill Ayers entered graduate school in education in New York and then returned to Chicago in 1987 to join the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago, then known as the “Chicago Circle” campus.

In the fall of 1987 a strike of the Chicago Teachers’ Union took place just a few months after Obama asked the mayor to support the DCP’s community based education effort that would include John Ayers. The strike angered many in the city and led to a lobbying effort in the Illinois legislature to institute local control in the Chicago schools through elected “local school councils” (LSCs). Over union opposition and opposition from groups such as Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, which feared (correctly) the LSC’s would undermine teachers many of whom were black, the state legislature backed the LSC idea.

Bill Ayers was active during the strike as well in this reform effort, as was his brother John. Bill rose to chair the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools, or ABCs, a key group in the LSC lobbying campaign. although precisely when Ayers became chair is not known. Obama’s DCP was also a member of ABCs, the only black community organization to join. Another member was Chicago United, a business group that had been founded many years earlier by Thomas Ayers, the father of Bill and a powerful Chicago business leader who was active in education reform on behalf of the business community. Chicago United played a key role in organizing ABCs.

John Ayers, Bill Ayers, Tom Ayers, Mike Klonsky and Barack Obama shared a commitment  to “local control” ideology from at least the late 1980s through the Chicago School Wars of the 1990s. Obama brought his DCP into the local control movement and thus proved himself a valuable ally of the Ayers family in that battle.  Bill Ayers rewarded Obama for that commitment by appointing Obama to chair the Annenberg Challenge in 1995.  Obama, in turn, steered millions of dollars from the CAC to multicultural curriculum programs and local control efforts led by Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky, among others. Ayers, in turn, supported Obama’s effort to enter electoral politics as part of the “long march” tactics favored by Bill Ayers after the failed effort to stoke a “revolution” through violence and terror. There is also evidence that Ayers, and his allies in the education reform movement, continue to influence education policy of the President. It is no surprise that the Obama campaign, including its media team at The New York Times, has done everything it can to bury this story.