Washington Prowler

Obama’s Olympic Spirit

He doesn't have time to deal with Afghanistan. But he has plenty of time for his Chicago gang and its Olympics hustle.

By 9.29.09

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It would seem the Obama administration, which hasn't had time to hold conversations with senior military officials involved in such a critical national security issue as the war in Afghanistan, has been spending far more time assisting President Barack Obama's adopted hometown, Chicago, than the White House has previously divulged, using the President's and White House senior staff's presence at global policy meetings to lobby foreign ministers, diplomats and members of the International Olympic Committee.

This morning's Wall Street Journal reported on some of the heretofore unknown efforts undertaken by the Obama White House to lobby "unaligned" nations involved in the International Olympic Committee's selection of the site for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

The money quote: "The Chicago backers have pinned their hopes in part on winning the support of about a dozen African nations, a bloc of traditionally unaligned votes at the IOC. The administration has tried to make its case in conversations on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, at the Group of 20 Summit, during a Capitol reception with African diplomats and in a video of Mr. Obama personally pitching African IOC members." 

"I think it's safe to say that this administration has been far more involved in lobbying and efforting this bid than officials here have led folks to believe," says a staffer assigned to the White House Counsel's Office, who says that amount of time being spent on strategizing and assisting Chicago2016, the entity that was formed several years ago to begin the bidding process, and which will ultimately be responsible for overseeing the Olympics in Chicago should the city receive the bid , was an issue that had counsel staff attempting to determine whether it was appropriate for White House resources to be used to assist in the Chicago bid. "It was made clear to us that this was something the President and First Lady were very committed to," says the source.

According to the White House source, both the State Department and the National Security Council were asked for assistance in preparing briefing materials for use during the UN, G-20, and overseas trips to Europe and Africa in meetings with foreign officials, particularly in the "unaligned" African countries.

It isn't just the Obamas -- and their ties to the most senior members of Chicago 2016 are far more extensive than the mainstream media has bothered to uncover.

For example, as it stands, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod's firm, AKPD Message and Media, which employs his son, and which owes Axelrod money, is one of the contractors on the Chicago Olympics bid. Senior presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett has been deeply involved in the strategizing for the Olympics bid since before the 2008 election, and until accepting her job in the White House she was a deputy chairwoman of the Chicago Olympics Host Committee. Both have close ties to a number of Chicago 2016 committee members. 

Crain's Chicago Business reported Monday that Jarrett and Chicago 2016 committee president (and recent chief of staff to Mayor Richard Daley) Lori Healey met with officials of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to discuss financing options for construction of the Olympic Village. According the HUD sources, the Obama Administration will seek to use low-income housing grant funding options to help the city build the Olympic Village, and when the Olympics are over, some portions of the village will be used for low-income rental and purchased residences.

Healey and Jarrett's relationship goes back years to Healey's times as a senior staffer on the city's planning and development department in the 1990s, around the same time that Jarrett would have been running one of the city's largest low-income housing projects. Healey was also vice chair of the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) Board of Commissioners, which would have overseen Jarrett's company's projects.

Another member of the Chicago committee is Martin Nesbitt, who the New York Times last December identified as one of President Obama's "closest friends," and whose wife is a close friend to Michelle Obama. Nesbitt, the godfather to one of the Obamas' daughters, was also the Obama presidential campaign's treasurer, and is credited with introducing Obama to Penny Pritzker, one of the most influential fundraisers for Democrats in the United States. His ties to Pritzker go back to a time when he worked for Pritzker's real estate companies, and she later invested in Nesbitt's airport off-site parking business, the Parking Spot, a company that stands to make millions from the Olympics bid. The Pritzker family, which holds a number of real estate properties in Chicago, also stands to reap tens of millions from a successful Olympics bid. Nesbitt is also the chairman of the board of commissioners of the Chicago Housing Authority.

Nesbitt did not join the board of Chicago 2016 until March 2009, when he replaced … Valerie Jarrett, who resigned from the board to accept her post in the White House.

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