Sen. Barack Obama expressed remorse Saturday for a series of financial arrangements he made with an indicted political fundraiser to improve their adjoining South Side properties.
Obama has described his dealings with Antoin "Tony" Rezko as ethical and proper, but he now acknowledges the arrangement might have appeared improper.
"It was a mistake to have been engaged with him at all in this or any other personal business dealing that would allow him, or anyone else, to believe that he had done me a favor," Obama said in a written statement Saturday. "For that reason, I consider this a mistake on my part and I regret it."
Obama's remarks came in response to an article in Wednesday's Tribune that disclosed for the first time how he and Rezko's wife bought adjoining properties last year, then worked together to build a wrought-iron fence and make other improvements.
Though Obama answered questions in detail for that article, Saturday's statement marked his first direct expression of regret.The same day that Obama and his wife, Michelle, closed on a $1.65 million home, Rezko's wife, Rita, closed on a $625,000 vacant lot next door. Both lots had once been part of the same estate, but the owner listed them for sale separately.
Obama said he had discussed the home with Tony Rezko, but didn't know exactly when Rezko became interested in the vacant lot. In January, Obama paid Rezko $104,500 for part of the vacant lot to expand his own yard, balancing the space between his house and the fence.
Obama also paid thousands of dollars to an attorney and architects to inquire about the fence with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, partly because Obama's wife once worked there and because they wanted to ensure it was done properly, Obama said.
Rezko, however, was the one who was to pay for the fence, although that $14,000 bill has not been paid, the fence company told the Tribune.
Obama also pays his landscaper to mow Rezko's 7,500-square-foot yard. Obama said that he intends to have the landscaper figure out a pro-rata cost for that mowing and send that bill to Rezko, but that he hasn't yet done so.
During the 16 months Obama and Rezko cooperated on these matters, Rezko was reported to be under investigation by a federal grand jury.
Obama has been the beneficiary of nearly $20,000 in campaign contributions from Rezko, who was recently indicted on charges "he plotted to squeeze millions of dollars in kickbacks out of firms seeking state business, allegations that put him at the center of a growing scandal surrounding Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration."
I'm reluctant to believe in coincidences when it comes to land deals and politicians. If Obama expects us to believe it was a mere coincidence that the Rezkos closed on the empty lot next to their million-dollar home on the same day and nothing untoward occurred, he must think we're all pretty stupid. "I haven't been involved with [Rezko] in any legislative work whatsoever or any government activities of any sort," Obama also said. Of course, he's also appearing in a radio ad for Rep. Julia Carson (D) in which he says the two of them teamed up to pass legislation. Note that neither were principal authors of the legislation--just along for the ride. Obama is a show horse and not a work horse. I don't think it will be long before a lot other people start figuring that out.