Who’s Tony Rezko? William Ayers? Few Americans know, but they probably will by Election Day.
Rezko is a Chicago businessman, convicted of more than a dozen charges this week. Ayers is a professor — and former member of the radical Weather Underground. Both have ties to Barack Obama and may well show up in anti-Obama ads you’ll be seeing before long.
These days, presidential candidates can expect to have every personal relationship, new or ancient, inspected like a crime scene on “CSI.” Then, if there’s political hay to be made, a version of the details is quickly out.
Here are brief descriptions of some people who may show up in ads, debate questions and Internet chatter over the coming months.
JEREMIAH WRIGHT: Wright was Obama’s minister for 20 years. He helped Obama embrace Christianity, performed Obama’s marriage and baptized Obama and his two daughters.
Most of America knows Wright only through a few snippets from his sermons and a couple of contentious public appearances. They’re familiar with him shouting “God damn America” and accusing the government of creating AIDS.
Obama has done his best to distance himself from his former minister, to the point of resigning from the church that Wright once led. But that’s unlikely to stop ads that portray Wright as a bigot and ask why Obama would listen to him for so many years.
ANTOIN REZKO: “Tony” Rezko is a businessman who has helped raise campaign money for Obama and many other Illinois politicians. He was convicted Wednesday on 16 of 24 counts involving mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and aiding and abetting bribery.
The charges have no connection to Obama, but Rezko is tied to the Illinois senator in other ways.
Rezko and his family donated at least $21,457 to Obama and helped raise over $200,000 more, though not for his presidential bid. He also advised Obama on the purchase of a new Chicago home and, in his wife’s name, purchased a vacant lot next door to the new Obama home when the seller wanted to dispose of both properties at the same time. Rezko then sold a slice of the property to Obama.
Obama has donated Rezko’s contributions to charity and says it was a mistake to work with Rezko on buying the house.
WILLIAM AYERS: Today, Ayers is a university professor and a member of Chicago’s intellectual establishment. Forty years ago he was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including nonfatal explosions at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.
Ayers was a fugitive for years with his wife, fellow radical Bernadine Dohrn. But after surrendering in 1980, the charges against Ayers were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
Obama has a very limited relationship with Ayers, who lives in the same neighborhood. They served together on the board of a Chicago charity, and in the mid-1990s when Obama first ran for office, Ayers hosted a meet-the-candidate session for Obama at his home.
Questioned about Ayers at a debate in April, Obama said, “The notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was eight years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn’t make much sense.”
EMIL JONES: Jones, the president of the Illinois Senate, amounts to Obama’s political godfather and was an important part of Obama’s longshot victory for U.S. Senate in 2004. He helped the little-known politician meet the right people, and he picked Obama to handle high-profile legislation during the two years leading up to the election.
But Jones’ political style is very different from Obama’s.
Jones is known for steering state money to a few favored institutions, including some that employ his relatives. Several of his relatives have gotten state jobs, and his wife’s government salary jumped 60 percent after he became Senate president. He has played an important role in blocking ethics legislation in Illinois.
RASHID KHALIDI: Khalidi is a scholar and author on Middle Eastern affairs who has criticized Israeli policies and was part of a Palestinian advisory panel to peace talks in the early 1990s.
He’s also a friend of Obama.
They met while both were teaching at the University of Chicago and living in the same neighborhood. Obama and his wife sometimes had dinner with Khalidi and his wife, Mona. The Khalidis hosted a political fundraiser for Obama in 2000, and the Woods Fund charity gave money to the Arab-American Action Network, run by Mona Khalidi, while Obama served on the charity’s board.
Khalidi and Obama have both said they hold very different opinions on Israeli issues, but their friendship has been used to raise questions about Obama’s support for Israel — and to generate Internet headlines such as “Meet Obama’s Terrorist Friend.”
MICHAEL PFLEGER: Pfleger, the white leader of a mostly black Catholic parish in Chicago, has been known as a firebrand for years. He protests everything from gun shops to Jerry Springer. Obama has referred to him as a spiritual adviser.
Recently, he visited Obama’s church and preached a sermon in which he mocked Hillary Clinton and accused her of expecting to win the presidential nomination because she was white. Pfleger apologized, but Obama condemned the remarks and resigned from the church.
Obama was not nearly as close to Pfleger as he was to Wright, but now he’s likely to face questions about his relationship with both men.
MICHELLE OBAMA: His wife has been a valuable campaigner for Obama, but she has also stepped into controversy from time to time.
She served on the board of TreeHouse, a food company that did business with Wal-Mart, which Obama has often criticized. She resigned from the paid position, citing a lack of time.
Most significantly, she said at one Obama campaign appearance, “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” She later said she meant she was proud of the way Americans were participating in the political process — not that she had never been proud of America before.
Her comments contributed to Internet broadsides arguing that the Obamas don’t love the country and somehow aren’t “true” Americans.