'The Obama Chronicles': What Did Obama Accomplish as a Community Organizer in Chicago?

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," September 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In "The Obama Chronicles" segment tonight: Much has been made of Barack Obama's community organizer job, but what exactly did he do in Chicago and did he do it well? Joining us now from Chicago to analyze, David Mendell, author of the book "Obama: From Promise to Power."

OK, let's begin with the community organizer that — Sarah Palin made fun of that. His job, as I see it in reading your book, was basically to lobby. He was a lobbyist for poor people on the southside of Chicago, right?

Click here to watch "The Obama Chronicles" about Obama's work as a community organizer in Chicago.

DAVID MENDELL, AUTHOR, "OBAMA: FROM PROMISE TO POWER": Well, to some extent, sure. He had to go to the legislature and push for these constituents for their concerns. And a lot of them were poor folks on the southside of Chicago. So yes, he was their advocate. He was their lobbyist in the state legislature.

O'REILLY: Now he wanted to get money for community projects and to clean up certain areas, to build playgrounds, to do all that kind of stuff, correct?

MENDELL: Right. Yes, he brought back money for after-school programming, for head start preschool programming, for food pantries, to stem programs in churches, to stem gang violence, that kind of thing, because these were the concerns of some — those residents in that neighborhood — I mean, in those neighborhoods.

O'REILLY: Now it was good at — would you say he was good at what he did, to bring back stuff? Was he good at it?

MENDELL: Well, after the first couple of years in the legislature, yes, he was good. He was in the minority party for a couple of years. And as we know, if you're in the majority party, you're certainly going to have a lot more power, a lot more influence. And he became very close to the new Democratic Senate President Emil Jones Jr.

O'REILLY: Yes, we said…

MENDELL: And when the Democrats…

O'REILLY: Right. Last week, we said he was one of his mentors. So when he got to being a state senator, he aligned himself with Emil Jones, the most powerful guy in the legislature. And then he got a lot of money. He got $225,000 for St. Sabina Church. Father Pfleger, the radical Pfleger.


O'REILLY: $225,000. What about separation of church and state?

MENDELL: Well, I think that's why Obama, you know, believes in these faith-based initiatives. He's not a Democrat who doesn't believe the church does some good in the community. And you know, a lot of folks on the left have been critical of him for this.

But he saw on the ground there that some of these churches on the southside of Chicago were the most productive community members. These were the institutions that really helped a lot of the citizens down there with after-school programming, with marriage counseling, with things like that. So, he really believed — I think he genuinely believed…

O'REILLY: Yes, Pfleger — he's a radical guy, Pfleger, but he has done good work on the streets. There's no doubt.


O'REILLY: So it looks to me like Barack Obama did his job, brought home pork to his district.


O'REILLY: Did the community — but the district is interesting: 67 percent black, 23 percent white, 7 percent Hispanic. However, the violent crime rate in the district is 80 percent higher than the city of Chicago as a whole. So I'm saying to myself, did it do any good that all of this money poured in there, when the situation today is very, very intense. It doesn't seem to have helped all that much.

MENDELL: Yes, well, Bill, we have had — we have struggled in this country for generations now trying to figure out how to save these urban neighborhoods. People are, you know, fleeing these neighborhoods for the suburbs, and what's left there is the very poor of the poorest. So the poorest of the poor. And so, you know, you can throw — you know, it does make an argument that it maybe does fall back the argument that if you throw too much money at these places, it still doesn't seem to help things. But, you know, some of these neighborhoods have been just, you know, for a generation now…

O'REILLY: Absolutely. Southside of Chicago, you know, bad boy — bad Leroy Brown. Remember that song?


O'REILLY: You know, Jim Croce back in the '60s.

MENDELL: That's right.

O'REILLY: It's always been terrible. It remains terrible. But it looks to me like Barack Obama is sincere in what he did. He did it effectively.


O'REILLY: And you know, it didn't have a lot of effect on the quality of life in the neighborhood, but what are you going to do?

Mr. Mendell, thanks very much. Good book. I appreciate it.

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