1-12-2017-6-11-28-PM-7119195

Farewell to a brilliant first lady, Michelle Obama

It’s amazing how individual fortunes can turn on a dime.

One day you can be a mother of two children concerned about your husband’s political fortunes, and the next, become one of the most inspiring women in the world.

I first met Michelle Obama sometime in March 2004. She was sitting quietly and unnoticed by everyone in the ice cream parlor at the Museum of Science and Industry’s Yesterday’s Main Street with her two children, Malia who was walking around with ice cream, and Sasha who was in a stroller.

At the time, Michelle seemed like any average person with the same challenges facing any young family.

My son, Aaron, was only 3 years old at the time, about Shasha’s age, and he walked up to the stroller the way children of the same age often do. They just know how to connect. Michelle said Aaron was cute and smiled.

Michelle was with a political PR maven I have known for a long time, Delmarie Cobb. It was Cobb who I first said hello to and it was Cobb who introduced me to Michelle.

No one at that time, including Michelle Obama, had any idea of the amazing adventure that she was about to begin.

I spoke at length with Cobb, a well known and successful public relations professional and had a few words of courteous greetings with Michelle. I asked her to give my regards to her husband, 13thDistrict Illinois State Senator Barack Obama.

Barack Obama and I shared a mutual friend, Tony Rezko, a brilliant American Arab businessman who did so much for so many people but who was crucified because of his ties to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who got everyone around him into real trouble.

But that spring in 2004, Barack Obama was engaged in the political fight of his life for the U.S. Senate seat that was being vacated by the mercurial and unpredictable incumbent, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald.

The Republican Party abandoned Fitzgerald and instead backed wealthy young businessman, Jack Ryan, who defeated Jim Oberweis for the GOP nomination. Ryan’s Democratic opponent was Obama. I had met Ryan and he was tough, articulate and knew the issues. And, he had unlimited funding for his campaign.

Everyone predicted Ryan would easily win and Obama would experience his second major defeat. Obama failed to unseat the do-nothing congressman in the 1stDistrict, Bobby Rush. Losing to Rush was a sign you were not very popular and might never be.

It seemed certain that Obama, the state senator from the obscure 13thDistrict, was going to tank in the election, too. It was all so certain at the time. And then, the unexpected happened.

Fate has a way of changing things.

Ryan dropped out of the race in June 2004, a few months after my chance meeting with Michelle Obama. The news media had started to delve into the dirty details of his 1999 divorce from Hollywood actress Jeri Ryan, which was under seal. The exaggerated whispers about what was in the divorce file were horrible.

The Republican Party, which bullied Fitzgerald out of the race, was now scrambling to find Ryan’s replacement. They turned to the mercurial political gadfly and radio talk show host Alan Keyes. Keyes ran and lost for president twice and had come from out-of-state to succeed Ryan in Illinois.

Obama’s fortunes changed dramatically. Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention that July took on new meaning. Obama was introduced to America as a “political phenom.” And his landslide victory over Alan Keyes that November, 70 percent to 27 percent, jettisoned him to the Washington Beltway FastTrack.

He never stopped. You know the rest of the story.

I admire Michelle Obama and regret not getting a photo of her with my son. Not only was she a beautiful person, but American’s have also learned how a person can be both gracious and compassionate.

Her speeches have been inspiring. She made the past eight years of politics so much more acceptable.

The legacy of President Barack Obama may still be in the process of being defined, but one thing is for sure, Michele Obama has made her mark and she deserves our gratitude.

Ray Hanania is an award winning political columnist and former Chicago City Hall reporter. Email him at [email protected]

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