Barack Obama's $1.1 Million Botanical Garden -- Er, $100,000 Gazebo (Graphics Updated)

obamazebosignThe media and the Obama campaign (but I repeat myself) are comparing the "experience" of'the Democrats' presidential nominee to that of the GOP's vice-presidential pick -- meaning, one must assume, that the debate over his experience vs. John McCain's is over, in McCain's resounding favor.

Let's look back a couple of months at a post I put up on July 14 (with minor revisions) that gives a, uh, concrete example of one of Barack Obama's management "experiences" -- one that the national media has (of course) totally ignored.

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Barack Obama's $100,000 Gazebo

Here's an interesting story I found in the Chicago Tribune archives (obtained from ProQuest library database; for fair use and discussion purposes):

ENGLEWOOD IS EYED FOR BOTANICAL GARDEN
Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Ill.: Jan 15, 2000. pg. 5

A group of politicians, school administrators and community activists unveiled a plan Friday for a $1.1 million botanical garden in the city's Englewood neighborhood.

The proposal calls for a walk beneath the "L" tracks on Princeton Avenue, from 59th Place to 62nd Place. Backers said they hope it will help spur redevelopment in the impoverished area, boost neighborhood pride and soften the impact of traffic and pollution from the nearby Dan Ryan Expressway.

State Sen. Barack Obama (D-Chicago) said he planned to seek state funding for the effort and estimated that ground could be broken in early 2001.

The proposed garden also would include a gazebo, a parrot sanctuary and a walk of fame.

Gee, that sounds exciting. Let's go visit:

ObamaGarden0708

(Google Maps image is more than likely from before the Sun-Times visit described below occurred, and before the related report and video were posted.)

Imagine that. No garden. No parrot sanctuary. No walk of fame.

How can that be? What happened? The Chicago Sun-Times tells us the answer, while revealing that "at least" there's a gazebo -- but not much of one (video is at link; HT Jennifer Rubin via the TIB All-Stars July 12 collection at Weapons of Mass Discussion):

Obama's $100,000 garden grant wasted
He vowed to 'work tirelessly' to build an oasis for Englewood. It never happened.

July 11, 2008

As a state senator, Barack Obama gave $100,000 in state money to a campaign volunteer who failed to deliver on a plan to create a botanic garden in one of Chicago's most blighted neighborhoods.

..... what was supposed to be a six-block stretch of trees and paths is now a field of unfulfilled dreams, strewn with weeds, garbage and broken pavement.

Kenny B. Smith, whose nonprofit group got the money, said it was spent legitimately, mostly on underground site preparation. But he admitted Thursday that the garden is a lost cause because other government money never came through.

..... Smith -- an early Obama supporter who gave $550 to his state and congressional campaigns -- said he gave his paperwork documenting the work to a state agency and no longer has it.

..... a reporter walked the site last week with a landscape architect from the Illinois Green Industry Association who found no evidence of the work Smith cited. The only major changes since 2000: A gazebo was added, and some trees were cut down.

Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said through a spokesman he wasn't responsible for monitoring the work; the staffs of Gov. Blagojevich and former Gov. George Ryan were.

..... In 2001, at Obama's direction, a $100,000 Illinois FIRST grant went to Smith's group. The garden site was part of Rosewood Estates, an affordable-housing development being built by the group, whose unpaid board chairman was Brian Washington, a Sun-Times security guard.

Plans called for more than 50 homes, but only a dozen were built, Smith said.

The remaining $1 million for the botanic garden was never raised.

Those legendary $400 hammers for the military have nothing on this $100,000 gazebo.

A trifling matter? I don't think so. More like a revealing one:

  • Obama feels no sense of responsibility for the results of money directed to someone HE chose. This isn't "the buck stops here" of Harry Truman fame; this is "the buck went somewhere else."
  • Gubernatorial staffs aren't responsible for monitoring projects like this. State agencies are. If the agency involved didn't do their job (according to the article, it's the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity), that's one thing, but the blame-shifting to other pols is either hopelessly naive (a legitimate possibility, given the candidate's seemingly endless well of ignorance) or irresponsible.
  • If you look at the full text of the press release that announced the project, you'll see that Kenny Smith was on hand, and that he made representations about how he was "work(ing) with a variety of governmental agencies and not-for-profit groups to secure funding this project including the Chicago Transit Authority, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the American Society of Landscape Architecture. We have made some progress ...." My bet: Smith had, at most, met with these orgs once or twice, and was blowing smoke about the realistic chances of getting money. For a nominal $550 in campaign contributions, Smith got 100 grand, which "somehow" has mostly gone bye-bye. Bottom line: Obama got hustled. Did he even look into how the rest of the "fund-raising" was going before directing the release of the grant funds?
  • Perhaps that's why Obama seems oddly indifferent to what ultimately happened. The response from his spokesman (and not the candidate) is tired boilerplate about "provid(ing) residents with a livable neighborhood." Zzzzzz.

The larger point is this: The guy is hopelessly gullible, can't even get a $100,000 grant right, and now wants to have the final say in matters relating to a $3-plus trillion federal budget and a $14-trillion economy in a town chock full of con artists and tricksters.

Yikes.

It would be cool if some enterprising photo-opster could make up a "Barack Obama $100,000 Gazebo" sign (or something more clever -- use your imagination), take some pictures at the site, and post them. Until that happens, this well-done contribution from NewsBusters reader "tnculp" will do very nicely:

obamazebo

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.