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Alice Palmer, the avowed communist who helped launch Barack Obama’s career, continues to haunt Obama even today.
In 2008, Palmer showed up at the Democratic National Convention in Denver as a Hillary Clinton supporter, still resentful toward Obama for knocking her and three other candidates off the ballot for an Illinois state Senate seat some 13 years earlier by challenging voter signatures.
Thomas began as a volunteer for the 2008 Clinton campaign then launched a petition drive when she learned the Democratic National Committee was not going to allow delegates to cast their votes for Clinton at the convention.
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“I just felt like the entire process was being eviscerated and rules were being changed all along to ensure that no matter what, Barack Obama was the nominee,” Thomas said.
“And I felt compelled to take a stand to have the process in which we decide who our candidates are that we vote for be upheld,” she said. “And that the peoples’ votes are held up from the ballot box to the convention where the delegates bring those votes forward.”
Thomas said she received death threats as she gathered the 300 signed and notarized petitions required by Democratic National Convention rules to prompt a count of votes for Hillary Clinton on the first ballot.
Knowing how Obama had defeated Palmer in his first election campaign in 1996, Thomas required the delegates who signed the petition to notarize their signatures on two copies. One copy was sent to a Post Office box and the other brought to the convention in Denver.
Thomas said she did it “so there was no way the DNC or the Obama campaign, his lawyers, could knock my signatures off this petition.”
Thomas took three months off work to conduct the petition drive, foregoing considerable income.
She explained why she did it and why she is speaking out about it now.
“I’m a little scared right now, there’s no doubt about it,” she admitted, “but at some point in your life, if you are fortunate enough, you are faced with the decision of doing something bigger than yourself.”
In 1995, Obama saw his opening to run for elected office when Palmer decided to give up her state Senate seat and run for Congress in a special election.
In 1986, as editor of the Black Press Review, Palmer was the only African-American to cover the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in Moscow.
She went out of her way to make Obama her handpicked successor.
To get Obama’s state Senate race off to a good start, Palmer arranged a function to be held for a few influential liberals in the district at the Hyde Park home of Weather Underground founders Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.
It’s not likely Palmer would have selected Obama to be her successor in the Illinois Legislature or have introduced him to the Hyde Park political community at the Ayers-Dohrn home unless she saw an affinity between Ayers and Dorhn’s radical SDS Weather Underground history and her own history of openly professed communism and Obama.
After Palmer stepped aside for Obama to take her seat, she suffered an unexpected electoral defeat in the November 1995 Democratic Party primary. She came in a distant third, behind Jesse Jackson and Emil Jones Jr., a power-wielder who would become Obama’s mentor after Obama was elected to fill Palmer’s seat.
After losing the special congressional election, Palmer reversed her decision and decided she wanted her Illinois Senate seat back.
Palmer supporters asked Obama to step aside, but he refused and decided to challenge Palmer’s eligibility for the ballot using what the Chicago Tribune described as the “bare-knuckle arts of Chicago electoral politics.”
Obama hired a fellow Harvard Law School alumnus to challenge the legitimacy of the signatures Palmer received on petitions to qualify for the ballot.
Once he set on the strategy, Obama kept challenging petitions, until he succeeded in getting all four of his Democratic primary rivals forced off the ballot, enabling him to run unchallenged.
Viviano described Obama’s strategy in defeating Palmer in 1995 as a betrayal.
“Alice Palmer was his mentor who had asked Bill Ayers to throw that coming-out party for Obama,” she explained.
Thomas said she met Palmer in person at the 2008 convention in Denver.
“I actually had my petitions in my backpack,” Thomas remembered. “I walked right up to her and I said, ‘Alice Palmer, you have no idea how you have affected my life and what I’ve just done.’”
Thomas explained to Palmer how she designed her petition to make sure Obama could not get lawyers to disqualify her signatures.
“I had every single one of these petitions notarized because I know what happened to you,” Thomas told Palmer upon meeting her in Denver. “I have them in my backpack right now. Do you want to see them?”
Palmer said yes.
“She started going through them, and she got tears in her eyes when she saw that they were notarized,” Thomas recalled. “She said, ‘Oh my God, This is what I should have done, this is what I should have done.”
Thomas told Palmer that the only reason she got her signatures individually notarized was to prevent the Democratic National Committee or the Obama campaign from throwing out her signatures to disqualify the petition.
“This was all because of what [Obama] did to all of his challengers,” Viviano stressed. “It just was outrageous to disqualify these people that way. This is how moral and ethical our so-called president is. His own mentor, who went out of her way to support him in his career – he turned around with a knife and put it in her back and had her challenged off the ballot in a way that was so amoral and unethical, and she became a Hillary supporter.”
Thomas remembered that Palmer pulled her aside at the Denver presidential nominating convention and told Thomas that she wanted to tell her a story.
Palmer explained to Thomas that after Obama’s lawyers disqualified her signatures in 1996, she spent the next few months walking door-to-door making sure her signatures were valid.
“She said every single one of them was correct, and they should have not been knocked off,” Thomas said.
Thomas recalled that Palmer wanted to have dinner with her that night. But the person who introduced her to Palmer later called and said that the dinner was off because Palmer had been threatened.
Viviano shared Thomas’ outrage.
“America doesn’t do scared like that,” she insisted. “This is a First Amendment country, freedom of speech and now, all of a sudden, there are people cowering in the corner that are afraid to tell the truth about things.
“This is like living under Chavez or Castro,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”