In early 2003, I was assigned to shoot a press conference at the Allegro Hotel in Chicago, where a state senator named Barack Obama was to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Every ambitious politician was getting into what the Tribune described as a “crowded and contentious” senatorial race, so there wasn’t much noteworthy about the announcement – especially since Obama was a total unknown. And with a name like “Barack Obama”, I remember thinking to myself “Obama? Sorry man – you won’t go far with that name.” I simply didn’t give credit to the electorate to look beyond it. Even Obama laughs about the time. When I photographed him for his first newspaper interview after being elected president, I mentioned that I was there for his senate campaign announcement. He remarked “You mean when only eight people supported me…?” Five years after that press conference, I happened to be walking in the Loop past the Allegro Hotel, the morning after he was elected president. As I was remembering my woefully mistaken prediction of his political future, I saw stacks of newspapers on the curb with his face all over the front page. People were grabbing the newspapers like there was no tomorrow. I guess you can’t underestimate the electorate, or for that matter, President Barack Obama…(For a photo gallery of his first year in office by a Tribune photographer, click here).
©2009 Chicago Tribune/Alex Garcia
Normally, cruising the skies in a helicopter is a very cool assignment. But circling the largest polluters in the Chicago area on a hot day for three hours while breathing chopper exhaust isn’t exactly what the doctor ordered. But hey, it’s still a helicopter ride. The images were for one of several environmental stories we’ve published since taking a more aggressive watchdog role this past year. This past Sunday the Tribune published a story about how state politics had reduced environmental law enforcement, requiring federal regulators to step in to cite such companies as the one which owns the coal-powered plant in the photo. The state didn’t see any problems with the emissions, but since that very company was represented for years by one of ex-Governor Blagojevich’s top campaign aides, well, let’s just say something was in the air…
It was Chicago author and lawyer Scott Turow who said you must know how to point in front of a jury. As he says in his book, “Presumed Innocent”, “…If you don’t have the courage to point…you can’t expect them [the jury] to have the courage to convict.” As in the court of law, there is also a jury in the world of public opinion. And in Chicago, the “j’accuse!” of one’s index finger is part of the political arsenal of established pols. Some seasoned veterans even go on to master the very intimidating “angry finger wag”. Whether it be the ongoing wars over the budget, at left, or in battles over zoning, our aldermen have exhibited the belittling power of the pointed finger. There is, of course, a theatrical element to the gesture as well. Not discounting the very emotional issues at stake with real lives in the balance, it’s quite possible the behavior of elected officials could be affected by the presence of news cameras…:-)