Former President Bill Clinton.
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) - Former President Clinton was in the Windy City this week to speak at an environmental conference, but it was his presence at a rally, attended mostly by African-Americans, that has Sen. Barack Obama’s hometown talking.
A Chicago-based group of African-American pastors and civic activists, the 21st Century Alliance of Progressive Leaders, hosted Wednesday’s event that attracted nearly 600 people. But the media was kept away, even moved from sidewalks by Chicago police to across the street, according to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell.
Clinton said he would have preferred that reporters be allowed inside.
But Thursday morning on my Chicago-based radio show on WVON the leader of the group said that a collective decision was made between his organization, the former president’s office and the campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is Obama’s chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.
So did the former president tell the Chicago media one thing, and his staff decided another?
Bishop Tavis Grant initially told me that the event was billed as a conversation with Bill Clinton on a variety of issues, including global warming, but he later admitted that it was a rally for the senator’s presidential campaign.
The issue has caused a dust-up, because the event took place in Obama’s backyard. The rally was in the Parkway Ballroom on the South Side of Chicago in the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, a stone’s throw from the senator’s home in Hyde Park.
Traci Blunt, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign, said the confusion over the rally, and the failure to not allow reporters in, was theirs.
“It’s a mea culpa on our part,” she told me. “We should have opened it up to the press.”
She added that with the number of people in attendance, especially in Obama’s backyard, “we would have loved to showcase that.”
The ballroom has historical significance, because first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Jacqueline Kennedy spoke to black supporters there during their husbands’ respective presidencies.
A Sun-Times article put it this way: “The rally was closed to the press. One organizer admitted some in the largely African-American crowd might have been squeamish about being outed as a Hillary Clinton supporter in Obama's hometown.”
Ah, the beauty of Chicago politics.
- CNN Contributor Roland Martin