Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Obama and the Laborers' Union Ed Smith

When you run for political office, sometimes you have to hold your nose when supporters come your way.

Such is the case with the Laborers Union, which is believed to be one of the most corrupt unions in the country.

Back to my continuing book report of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope.

We're up to page 237, and Barack Obama--accompanied by his fellow Democrat Dick Durbin, are in Cairo (pronounced KAY-ROH) Illinois, which is located at the spot where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet.

Ed Smith, who lives near Cairo, is the Midwest Regional Manager of the Laborers, International Union of North America. What brought Obama and Durbin to Cairo in 2004---when Obama was running for his Senate seat--was a barbecue organized by Smith.

Obama is amazed by the size of the turnout at the barbecue/political rally--as well as the big turnout among whites--Cairo has an unhappy history of racial conflict.

From his book:

No doubt many of them were there because Ed Smith, one of the most powerful men in the area, wanted them to be there; others may have been there for the food, or just to see the spectacle of a U.S. Senator and a candidate for the Senate in their town.

Let me add some stuff Obama left out:

In 2000, Smith was a candidate to be an Al Gore delegate at the Democratic National Convention. In Alexander County, where Cairo is and Smith lives, an alleged vote-buying scheme took place.

From the Southern Illinoisan in 2005:

A saga that began more than five years ago amid accusations of voter fraud in Alexander County has resurfaced in Pulaski County Circuit Court in the form of a civil lawsuit naming numerous high profile defendants and asking more than $2.5 million in compensatory damages.

More...

Allegations surfaced in mid-February 2000, only days after absentee voting began in Alexander County, that people were being paid to vote for specific candidates. Several courthouse employees reported witnessing numerous absentee voters carrying small pieces of paper with four numbers - 35, 64, 83 and 104 - written on them. It was also reported that voters were being paid $3 to vote after they returned to a parking lot adjacent to the courthouse.

The four candidate names that corresponded with the numbers on the primary ballot were McGinness (83), Woolard (64), McRoy (104), and Smith (35). Smith was a candidate to be a delegate for Al Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention; the others ran for the offices indicated. All four were victorious in the primary.

After complaints were registered, the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Attorney General's office both conducted investigations prior to the primary election. The investigations centered on a political action committee that was operated through Laborers Local 773 in Cairo.

Ed Smith is one of the defendants named in the suit. I don't know the status of the case--but I'm interested in finding out.

According to Smith's online biography, Smith joined Local 773 when he was 13, and he was the business manager for the local from 1976 until 1994.

As I noted last week, in Audacity of Hope, Obama has taken a few swipes at Wal-Mart, presumably because of the non-union status of its workers.

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