Saturday, March 01, 2008

Obama's Sweetheart Land Deal Grows Deeper

Barack Obama has criss-crossed the country proclaiming himself as a new kind of politician who refuses contributions by lobbyists and will bring change to Washington.

There's just one snag to this rosy picture--Obama has been long involved in the rough and tumble game of Chicago politics. After being elected to the U.S. Senate and scoring a book deal that landed him millions in cash, Obama went on to buy an estate in an upscale Chicago suburb in 2005 for $1.65 million. The owners of the property at the time claim that was the best price they could secure then.

On the same day (June 15, 2005) that real estate deal went through for the Obama's, the wife of Chicago developer Tony Rezko purchased an empty plot of land immediately adjacent to the Obama mansion. She purchased that lot for $625,000. How she came up with that money has been anyone's best guess.

But now The Times of London has added a new twist the plot. A British businessman by the name of Nadhmi Auchi had loaned Rezko millions just days prior to Rezko's wife purchasing the land.

Barack Obama ended up buying a 10-foot parcel of the land from Mrs. Rezko in order to expand his garden. Obama has maintained his involvement in the land deal was "boneheaded."

But does anyone seriously buy the idea that Obama bought the 10-foot plot of land for his garden? Come on. Even Obama admits he paid his landscaper to cut the lawn on the land owned by Mrs. Rezko. Why did he feel compelled to take care of the property? And why did Mrs. Rezko jump at the empty plot of land the same day Obama purchased the mansion right next door? That's a coincidence of immense proportions. The usual argument offered by the Obama camp was that Rezko was in the business of developing properties and jumped at the chance of buying an empty lot in an upscale residential neighborhood. But it's not at all clear that the property was even on the market on that particular day. Also, The Times of London article linked above says the plot of land is only accessible through Obama's estate. How could an empty plot of land have any potential development value if it was blocked in by Obama's new house?

Even the most fervent of Obama supporters admit that Rezko was obviously trying to curry favor with a sitting U.S. Senator and possibly influence federal legislation. But this whole episode calls into question Obama's sense of judgment. After all, he is thin on a public service record. While McCain has major dents in his armor like his involvement in the Keating 5 Scandal and the recent flap that was mismanaged by The New York Times, he does have significant legislative accomplishments to fall back on when discussing ethics and the effect of money on national politics. Obama certainly doesn't have that luxury. Plus, unlike the Keating 5 scandal or the standard lobbyist connections that most Congressmen have, Tony Rezko was already being investigated by a federal grand jury at the time Obama purchased this estate. Why would Obama event want to be loosely associated with such ilk?

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