Obama endorses old friend for 4th Ward alderman

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The election bid of Ald. Sophia King (4th) got a high-profile boost — from former President Barack Obama. | Sun-Times file photo

Former President Barack Obama delivered Monday for the wife of a close friend — by endorsing appointed Ald. Sophia King (4th) in next month’s special aldermanic election.

King is the wife of Alan King, a house music disc jockey/Chicago attorney who is a close friend and basketball-playing buddy of Obama.

That is, in part, how Sophia King came to the attention of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served as Obama’s first White House chief-of-staff and appointed King to replace former Ald. Will Burns (4th).

“Michelle and I have known Sophia many years as a leader dedicated to improving her community,” Obama said in a statement released by King’s campaign.

“Over the years, Sophia has worked to make neighborhood schools and communities better. Sophia is the type of leader Chicago and the 4th Ward need.”

Gregory Seal Livingston, one of four candidates challenging King, said the Obama endorsement stems from the fact that Alan King is “part of the gang.”

Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator from Illinois who was running for president, is shown hugging his friend Alan King (right) as they get on a campaign charter in 2008. | Associated Press file photo

Barack Obama, then a Democratic senator from Illinois who was running for president, is shown hugging his friend Alan King (right) as they get on a campaign charter in 2008. | Associated Press file photo

“Obama’s friendship with Alan. Her relationship with Rahm and Toni Preckwinkle. That’s why the President endorsed her. He should have stayed out of this 4th Ward race and let the people decide this on the merits of the candidates and not their friendships,” Livingston said.

“What are people gonna say: `She was endorsed by the former President. Let’s vote for her?’ I’ve got to give folks much more credit than that. They’re asking, `Mr President, why? What are you doing? You’re a major player. This is the political minors.’ Wow. A former President? Out of all the stuff you could have chimed in on?’”

King is the founder of Harriet’s Daughters, a non-profit group of professional women that works on wealth creation opportunities for African-American neighborhoods.

The appointed alderman released a statement, saying she was “honored” to have Obama’s endorsement.

“His time in office inspired me and many others to take the next step in working for our community by entering public service,” King was quoted as saying.

The other candidates are attorneys Ebony Lucas, Gerald Scott McCarthy and Marcellus Moore Jr.

During her confirmation hearing, Sophia King acknowledged that she and her husband are friends of Barack and Michelle Obama and that a lot of Chicagoans would “make the connection” and conclude that’s how she appeared on Emanuel’s radar screen.

“The president has done a great job. I’m happy to be associated with him. But we knew him way before he was president. We knew him before he was even in the State Senate. That relationship goes back,” she said then.

Pressed on whether the friendship with Obama had anything to do with her appointment, King said, “I would hope not.” Nor does she believe she needed a presidential push.

“My record speaks for itself. … I was born in Colorado and grew up in Evanston, but the moment I moved here, I started volunteering. I helped create the Ariel School, which is in the North Kenwood-Oakland area. I saw that community change, the vibrancy that created and I continued to volunteer,” she said.

“I’m used to serving the community and I’ve always wanted to give back and do what I feel is the right thing to do. I never thought it would lead to this. … In terms of volunteering and my work on employment issues, my work on gun violence prevention has kind of led me to this point. It was kind of opportunity meeting my experience.”

Gregory Seal Livingston is shown addressing protesters marching on Michigan Avenue in December 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

Gregory Seal Livingston is shown addressing protesters marching on Michigan Avenue in December 2015. | Kevin Tanaka/For the Sun Times

On Monday, Livingston accused King of running away from the mayor who appointed her.

The former national field secretary for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition-turned President of the Coalition for a New Chicago said he’s gotten “three or four mailings” from the King campaign. There is “no sign of” Emanuel on any of them.

That’s particularly curious, considering the correspondence between Emanuel and Alan King disclosed in the mayor’s private emails.

“It’s Alan King, Barack’s buddy and Jesse Ruiz’s law partner over at Drinker Biddle. It was good seeing you in the suite at the Sox game on opening day,” Alan King wrote to the mayor in 2015.

At the time, King’s group had a permit to hold a “House Music Picnic” in Jackson Park, but the event was being threatened by construction on the site. He needed a favor from the mayor.

“I apologize, but it is a very serious situation for me and my business partners, and I think you might be able to help at least to broker a solution,” King wrote.

Emanuel asked King if he had contacted Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly. The mayor also forwarded King’s message to a top aide, who apparently worked things out with the Park District.

Two weeks later, King emailed the mayor again, to say, “I think everything is going to work out.” He added, “Please say hello to Amy [Rule, the mayor’s wife] from Sophia and me.”

Given those connections, Livingston said he’s not at all surprised that Obama, who still owns a house in the 4th Ward, would endorse Sophia King.

“It’s important for Rahm and Toni to keep this ward. Toni’s the committeeman. Any time you have lakefront property, that’s platinum. They want someone who’s going to be compliant and do exactly what they’re told. I’m not that guy,” said Livingston, who led protests and demanded Emanuel’s resignation in response to the mayor’s handling of the Laquan McDonald shooting video.

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