Obama Mentor Saul Alinsky on Chicago Reform Candidates

(p. A15) When Barack Obama came to prominence as a presidential candidate, his Chicago background–in particular, his efforts as a “community organizer”–reignited an interest in Saul Alinsky (1909-72), the hard-charging activist whose 1971 book, “Rules for Radicals,” was said to have had a formative influence on Mr. Obama’s thinking.
. . .
Hardscrabble though his youth had been, Alinsky managed to get into the University of Chicago, where his major was archaeology. When the Depression dried up money for digs, he wangled a fellowship to study criminology and began hanging out with gangsters as part of his study, including Al Capone’s “enforcer,” Frank Nitti.
Mr. von Hoffman tells us that one of Alinsky’s favorite stories involved a meeting between Nitti and Anton Cermak just after Cermak had been elected Chicago’s mayor in 1931. The meeting’s purpose was to negotiate the money that Capone would pay the city to keep its speakeasies stocked with beer and liquor: “As Saul told the story,” Mr. von Hoffman writes, “Cermak explained to Nitti, ‘You know I was elected as a reform candidate.’ To which Nitti replied, ‘What the hell does that mean, Tony?’ and waited for an answer. ‘It means,’ the mayor said after a suitable pause, ‘that the price is double.’ ”
The anecdote nicely illustrates the cynicism that informed Alinsky’s ideas about the way the world works.

For the full review, see:
CHRISTOPHER WILLCOX. “A Chicago-Style Peace Disturber; ‘Community organizer’ Saul Alinsky lumped politicians in with gangsters..” The Wall Street Journal (Thurs., July 15, 2010): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

The book under review is:
von Hoffman, Nicholas. Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky. New York: Nation Books, 2010.

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