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McCain, Obama & Bill Ayers -- here's the record

     WASHINGTON -- In last Wednesday's final presidential debate, Republican John McCain charged that Denocrat Barack Obama's political career was launched in the "living room" of a one-time terrorist, Bill Ayers. Sen. McCain also charged that Sen. Obama had a "close association" with Ayers. Gov. Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor who is GOP vice presidential nominee, charged Obama was "palling around" with Ayers.

     Here's how Obama responded during the debate:

         "So let's get the record straight. Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago.  Forty years ago, when  I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts.

         "Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan's former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg.  Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper.  Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign. And he will not advise me in the White House."      

         Obama continued, "Now, the reason I think that it's important to just get these facts out is because the allegation that Sen. McCain has continually made is that somehow my associations are troubling.  Let me tell you who I associate with. On economic policy, I associate with Warren Buffett and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker. If I'm interested in figuring out my foreign policy, I associate myself with my running mate, Joe Biden, or with Dick Lugar, the Republican ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, or Gen. Jim Jones, the former supreme allied commander of NATO."

     The allegations didn't stop there. On Friday morning, the Republican National Committee sent voicemails to potential voters in Northern Virginia. Here is the text of that message:

         "Hello, I'm calling for John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama has worked closely with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers whose organizations bombed the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, a judge's home, and killed Americans. And Demcorats will enact an extreme leftist agenda if they take control of Washington. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies lack the judgment to lead our country. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Commtitee, at 202 863 8500."

     On Wednesday, before the debate, the respected Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Sun-Times, Lynn Sweet, wrote this article chronicling just how Obama's career got started:

         "WASHINGTON--Barack Obama continues to be attacked by John McCain and other Republicans for his relationship with Bill Ayers, the former terrorist turned respected Chicago educator. Obama served on civic boards with Ayers and Ayers held a coffee for Obama when Obama first ran for a state senate seat in 1995. McCain said he may bring up Ayers at the third and final presidential debate Wednesday night.

         "Obama said McCain -- running ads featuring Ayers with Sarah Palin making him an issue on the stump --never said anything to his face. Ayers did not came up in the first two presidential debates. If McCain continues to insist that Obama launched his political career from Ayers' Hyde Park living room, he is misleading the public by overplaying the size and significance of Ayers' early support.

         "Obama's campaign really was launched when he got the backing of then state Sen. Alice Palmer (D-Chicago), who wanted him to replace her as she was planning a run for Congress. Palmer's backing gave him entrĂ©e into local influential political circles.

         "Obama and Palmer would later have a falling out that continues to this day. Palmer changed her mind and decided to run for re-election after all. Obama got Palmer and his other rivals knocked off the ballot. Palmer ended up backing Hillary Rodham Clinton's Democratic primary bid.

         "Obama's formal kick-off to announce his run for state senate was at the Hyde Park Ramada Inn on Sept. 19, 1995. Obama was introduced by Palmer in a room filled with supporters at the Ramada, fronting Lake Michigan on South Lake Shore Drive, a stroll from the Museum of Science and Industry.

         *Around this time, Obama started to attend a series of coffees in the Hyde Park community where he lived, standard operating procedure for political rookies running in the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Chicago.

         "I was certainly (hosting) one of the first," said Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf, rabbi emeritus at Chicago's KAM Isaiah Israel -- located across the street from the Obama home.

         "There were several every week," he recalled on Tuesday night when we spoke. "I remember what I said to him: 'Someday you are going to be vice president of the United States.' He laughed and said, 'Why not president?'''

         *The Ackermans, Sam and Martha, longtime Hyde Park activists in independent Democratic politics, also held an early event for Obama in their condo on E. Hyde Park Boulevard. (They have since divorced.)

         "Sam Ackerman told me Tuesday when we exchanged e-mails that 'as I recall, the event at Bill Ayers' house (prior to ours) was a fund-raiser for Alice's congressional campaign at which she also introduced Barack as the successor she would like to see elected.'

         "If Ackerman's recollection is correct -- that the event at Ayers home was really for Palmer and Obama just piggy-backed on it -- then any argument that the Obama political career was launched in the Ayers home is moot.

         "Martha and I talked on Tuesday night and she said she was not sure if the coffee at their condo for about 20 people was before or after Obama's Ramada Inn announcement.

         "'As a starter, I know that Barack went to Alice Palmer,' Martha Ackerman told me. '...Then the question was, how do you go about doing this in the Hyde Park way,' she said, a reference to the personal touch needed in the Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhoods, at the time immune to the dictates of the remnants of the Chicago machine and Mayor Daley's City Hall.

         "...the way to launch the campaign was to have coffee, and not one coffee, as in 'this is the start of everything.' Barack went around to a number of people and requested that they hold coffees for him."

         "But the Ackermans did not want to host an event for Obama without meeting him first. So he came over to their house and spent more than an hour with the couple.

         "When Obama left, 'I said to Sam, this guy could be the first African American president of the United States.'

         "Martha Ackerman said, 'I know there were a number of coffees. It wasn't just one or two.'"

--Douglas Turner

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |