Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Harold Ford Jr. and Chicago's E2 nightclub tragedy

While I was in the Volunteer State a couple of weeks ago, I heard a radio commercial from Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker about a $1,000 donation his opponent's campaign fund made to the Dwain Kyles Defense Fund that jogged my memory.

Rep. Harold Ford Jr. is the Democratic candidate for the senate seat being vacated by Bill Frist.

Who is Dwain Kyles? He was the owner of Chicago's E2 nightclub, where on February 17, 2003, 21 club patrons were killed in a stampede.

Kyles was subsequently charged for involuntary manslaughter. The club was greatly overcrowded that night. Kyles had rented out E2 to a local dance promoter whose security guards used pepper spray to subdue two women involved in a fight. The spraying panicked the 1,000 or so club customers, many of whom streamed toward the front door entrance of the E2--but that door had been bolted shut in a terribly misguided attempt to defuse the uproar.

Chicago fire marshals deemed that the capacity of the club 250 people, of course far more than that had packed on that busy night, the Sunday of President's Day weekend.

The tragedy of course dominated the Chicago news outlets for days. What was odd, was that several of the city's African-American leaders--all of the victims were black--were quick to defend the Kyles, who also is African American.

From the February 19, 2003 Chicago Tribune, free registration required:

In the days since the 21 patrons were killed, Jackson and his son U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) have rushed to defend Kyles and the club, as have U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) and a host of prominent Chicago ministers.

"Dwain Kyles is a childhood friend of mine. Today, he's a lawyer ... and an upstanding example of a young professional person in our community," the younger Jackson said in a prepared statement.

While calling Monday's disaster "unfortunate and tragic," he insisted "extending blame and pointing fingers is inappropriate and unnecessary before the first funeral has been held and the investigation is complete."

A year later, one of the victims, Eazay Rogers still (free reg. for the link) still didn't have a headstone.

And another year later, the campaign fund of Congressman Harold Ford donated $1,000 to the Dwain Kyles Defense Fund.

Via Free Republic, from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

"The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles is a pastor in Memphis, and his son in Chicago is a business owner, and there was a tragedy," the Memphis congressman said.

Rep. Ford said the elder Mr. Kyles is a well-known figure in Memphis and knew Martin Luther King Jr. Making such a contribution is "not something I ordinarily would do," Rep. Ford said. "I don’t think he did anything wrong. It was an awful thing."

Ben Mitchell, campaign manager for Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker, of Chattanooga, called the contribution "another in a series of questionable decisions by Congressman Ford."

"It’s difficult to understand how support for a criminal defendant in Chicago has anything to do with the Senate race in Tennessee, but I guess that’s a discussion he’ll probably need to have with his donors," Mr. Mitchell said.

Kyles' father was a founding member of Operation Push, Jesse Jackson's organization.

In my opinion, it's pretty bizarre that Ford's campaign wrote a check for Kyles' fund. Campaign financing laws might prohibit it, but if Eazay Rogers still doesn't have a headstone for her grave, perhaps Ford's campaign fund can buy one.

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