Obama: Man of the People?

by Dax-Devlon Ross

The day after New Year’s 1996, operatives for Barack Obama filed into a barren hearing room of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

There they began challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, a longtime progressive activist from the city’s South Side.

And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama’s four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.

Fresh from work as a civil rights lawyer and head of a voter registration project that expanded access to the ballot box, Obama launched his first campaign for the Illinois Senate saying he wanted to empower disenfranchised citizens.

But in that initial bid for political office, Obama quickly mastered the bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics. His legal onslaught signaled his impatience to gain office, even if that meant elbowing aside an elder stateswoman like Palmer.

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