Federal Campaign Notebook

That Guy in Obama’s Neighborhood Speaks

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — November 07, 2008 1 min read
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William C. Ayers has resisted press interviews amid attempts by Republicans and others to draw a close association between him and Barack Obama during the presidential campaign.

The two had served on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, but Mr. Obama’s critics described the relationship as more nefarious, highlighting Mr. Ayers’ involvement with a violent anti-war group during the Vietnam War era.

But last week, Mr. Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, broke his silence when a reporter for The Washington Post knocked on his door on Election Day.

On the Stoop: Education professor William C. Ayers outside his home in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood on Nov. 4.

Mr. Ayers described his relationship with the candidate as similar to that of “thousands and thousands” of people in Chicago, and said he wished he knew Mr. Obama better.

“Pal around together? What does that mean? Share a milkshake with two straws?” Mr. Ayers told the Post, in a reference to the Oct. 4 speech by Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin that accused Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

Mr. Ayers did not respond to e-mail or phone inquiries from Education Week after Election Day. Last month, this newspaper published detailed reports about the role of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge in that city’s school reform efforts and the controversy over Mr. Ayers’ ties to Mr. Obama. (“Chicago Annenberg Challenge in Spotlight,” Oct. 15, 2008.)

Mr. Ayers’ home in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood is across the street from the polling place where he cast his ballot—the same location where Barack and Michelle Obama and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan voted, the Post’s Nov. 5 story noted.

The professor has been described as unrepentant for his role in the radical group the Weather Underground, which was responsible for bombings at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and other sites. No one was injured in those attacks, but three members of the group died when a bomb they were constructing in a New York City townhouse detonated early.

Mr. Ayers told the Post he never wished he’d set more bombs.

But in the interview, Mr. Ayers did express some regrets.

“I wish I’d been wiser. I wish I’d been more effective,” he told Post reporter Peter Slevin. “I wish I’d been more unifying. I wish I’d been more principled.”

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A version of this article appeared in the November 12, 2008 edition of Education Week

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