Monday, August 25, 2008

Better than Flannery from Denver: Berkowitz w/ Emil Jones in Denver

As we look toward Senator Obama delivering his acceptance speech this Thursday night, few, if any, mentors loom so large in Obama’s methodical march toward the presidency over the last quarter of the century as State Senate President Emil Jones. From community organizer in Chicago to becoming the first African-American President of the Harvard Law School to being a practicing civil rights lawyer active in politics on the South side of Chicago to becoming a State Senator and a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School to becoming a U. S. Senator who would make and win the improbable run against the best the Democratic Party had to offer, i.e., the Clinton partnership of Hillary and Mr. Bill, there has been Senate President Jones, who spoke to Barack as recently as last Monday.

Of course, Jones and Obama are quite different in style, age and in their public persona. Yet, when Barack ran away from the pack in the March, 2004 seven candidate Democratic U. S. Senate Primary, the first real, contested election he won, Obama emphasized [on the Public Affairs TV show] he knew the issues, he spoke out on the issues and he had a clear, strong vision for the country. One senses that Jones, although not necessarily being known for those attributes in his thirty-five years in the General Assembly, had a role in shaping that important organizing paradigm of Obama, in addition to tutoring Obama in the fine art of politics and just being a source of strength, wisdom and friendship, as Obama made his various successive moves toward the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination.

Senator Jones is retiring at the end of this year, after having spent nineteen years in the State House, ten as the Senate Minority leader and the last six as Senate President. A colleague of Jones mentioned to this journalist last night that at one of the budget negotiating sessions in the last year or so among the four top Illinois legislative leaders and the Governor (when Speaker Mike Madigan was still attending), the Senate President was exhibiting little interest in the session until Obama’s name came up and he beamed, leading a half hour discussion of the mentee he seems to think of as would a father a son.

This journalist ran into Senate President Jones late Sunday night at his hotel in Denver. He kindly consented to a ten minute videotaped interview which will air on both Public Affairs and the Illinois Channel. Does the interview give the reader a sense of at least a portion of the Obama-Jones relationship, and of Obama, himself? Take a listen. We discuss, you decide.
Jeff Berkowitz: … Barack Obama said to you a few years back [in 2002] that [you] could make Barack Obama a Senator from Illinois, right?

Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago): Yes.

Jeff Berkowitz: U. S. Senator.

Senator Emil Jones: Right.

Jeff Berkowitz: And you did, didn’t you?

Senator Emil Jones: Well, I and a whole lot of others. I worked with him. I strongly supported his candidacy because I believed then, as I believe now, he had all the tools to be a great national leader so I threw all my support I could possibly give behind his candidacy. There is no question about that.

Jeff Berkowitz: Now, as we are taping this on August 24, 2008 in Denver, Colorado, how confident are you that Barack Obama is going to be the next President of the United States?

Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago): Well, if you look around the country and you look at the issues that the American people are faced with, the economy, high gas prices, the constant war in Iraq. If the people come together and look at the issues, they will vote overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.
Jeff Berkowitz: The Republicans say and … his opponent, John McCain, says the Surge is working, violence is way down in Iraq, not only for American soldiers but also for civilians—

Senator Emil Jones: You must remember, Barack Obama—

Jeff Berkowitz: McCain says that was the right decision. He says we are going to win in Iraq.

Senator Emil Jones: It was not the right decision for us to invade Iraq—

Jeff Berkowitz: But, is the Surge working?

Senator Emil Jones: It was not the right decision for us to invade Iraq. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Jeff Berkowitz: Even if the Surge works? Even if we’re winning in Iraq, you still think it was the wrong move?

Senator Emil Jones: The whole thrust of the Surge was to get the Iraqi government to take up their political responsibility and assume command.

Jeff Berkowitz: Are they doing it now?

Senator Emil Jones: I don’t know. I don’t know.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, if they are and a democracy emerges—

Senator Emil Jones: I don’t know. I am not involved at that level and I am not a foreign relations specialist.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, you know about gas prices.

Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago): But, one thing I do—I know about the economy. I know about all the other people-

Jeff Berkowitz: You know about gas prices.

Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago): Oh yes.

Jeff Berkowitz: That’s a big deal.

Senator Emil Jones: That’s right.

Jeff Berkowitz: McCain says we need to drill offshore, get the supply [of oil and gas] up, and prices down. Obama says no.—

Senator Emil Jones: All the experts—all the experts have already indicated you can drill and that would not solve our problem as relates to our dependence on fossil fuel. It is not going to change and you are talking ten to fifteen years down the road, so I am saying you must come up with another form of energy so it can take our dependence off of fossil fuel.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, just assuming [arguendo] those are the issues—war and gas prices—and assuming [arguendo] you are right and say Barack is right and he wins on those issues, but you said maybe people look at other things. What is it you are worried that they might look at?

Senator Emil Jones: I am not worried—I am not worried about anything.
Jeff Berkowitz: When you say they might look at other things—

Senator Emil Jones: I look at—I have enough confidence in the American people that they will make the right decision. *********************************************************************************
Jeff Berkowitz is host and producer of Public Affairs, a weekly political interview show airing in Chicago on CANTV, in the Chicago metro area and in Aurora on Comcast and also often on the Illinois Channel. You can watch the shows, including archived shows going back to 2005, here. You can read Berkowitz's daily reports from the presidential conventions for the Chicago Daily Observer [where you can read these reports first here]. You can contact Berkowitz directly:

Recently posted shows on the Public Affairs YouTube page will soon include this week's Chicago Metro suburban edition of Public Affairs with State Rep. Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago)and already include last week's Chicago Metro suburban edition of Public Affairs w/8th CD Republican Nominee Steve Greenberg, this past Monday night's Chicago and Aurora show with Senator Obama (D-IL), Gov. Sebelius (D-KS), DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Cong. Rahm Emanuel (D-Chicago), Attorney General Madigan, WTTW's Carol Marin, Real Clear Politics' Tom Bevan, Sun-Times Abdon Pallasch and much more, recent shows w/ 16th CD Democratic Nominee Robert Abboud, who is taking on 16 year, 16th CD Republican incumbent, Cong. Don Manzullo; Cook County Cmsr. and Republican State's Attorney Nominee Tony Peraica, Real Clear Politics' Tom Bevan , 13th CD Demoratic Nominee Scott Harper,State Rep. Candidate Tim Stratton (R-Glencoe, 58th Dist.), Sen. Kwame Raoul(D-Chicago), Senator John Cullerton (D-Chicago)- ; State Rep. candidate Joan Solms (R-Aurora), Comm. Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago) on the Obama Presidential campaign and shows with many other pols.