In recent months, Chicago has bathed in pride as the place Barack Obama calls home, in spite of the attendant scrutiny on people like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. and Tony Rezko. But it is now particularly defensive, if not irate, about the latest local figure to haunt Obama’s presidential candidacy: Bill Ayers.
Ayers, 63, is the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor who, during the Vietnam era, was a leader of radical group the Weather Underground. In recent weeks, Republicans have mounted an increasingly potent assault on Obama’s past dealings with Ayers, write Time.
For a sense of the reaction in Chicago, consider the headline of a recent Chicago Tribune blog post: “Question for Ayers alarmists: Where were you in the 1990s?” That was the period in which Ayers evolved from a bomb-throwing radical into a socially acceptable pioneer in education. At the university in recent days, Ayers’ colleagues have circulated letters expressing support. Similar formal statements may soon come from a group of alumni and the university itself. “Bill has nothing to be ashamed about in his scholarly career — it’s one that any scholar can take pride in,” says Victoria Chou, dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois here, and a friend of Ayers for years. She adds, “I’m just disappointed in those in our country who would try to tear down and destroy his reputation for political purposes. This is about Obama, not really about Bill, but it’s troubling us all.”
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