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Alice Palmer

Alice J. Palmer is a former Democratic state senator who represented the 13th Voting District in Illinois in the early 1990s. Prior to her stint in politics, she had worked for the Black Press Institute and was editor of the Black Press Review. During the Cold War, Palmer supported the Soviet Union and spoke against the United States. In the 1980s she served as an executive board member of the U.S. Peace Council, which the FBI identified as a Communist front group (and which was an affiliate of the World Peace Council, an international Soviet front). Palmer participated in the World Peace Council’s Prague assembly in 1983 -- just as the USSR was launching its “nuclear freeze” movement, a scheme that would have frozen Soviet nuclear and military superiority in place.

In the mid-1990s, Palmer attended a number of political meetings at the Chicago-area home of her friends and ideological allies, former Weatherman terrorists Bill Ayers and his wife Bernardine Dohrn. At those gatherings, Palmer developed a friendly relationship with another attendee, a young aspiring politician named Barack Obama.

In 1995, state senator Palmer decided to pursue an opportunity to run for a higher office when Mel Reynolds, the congressman from Illinois’ 2nd District, resigned from the House of Representatives amid a sexual scandal involving him and an underage campaign volunteer.

As Palmer prepared to leave the state senate, she hand-picked Barack Obama as the person she most wanted to fill her newly vacated senate seat. Toward that end, she introduced Obama to party elders and donors as her preferred successor, and helped him gather the signatures required for getting his name placed on the ballot.

But in November 1995, Jesse Jackson, Jr. defeated Palmer in a special election for Reynolds’ empty congressional seat. At that point, Palmer filed to retain the Democratic nomination for the state senate seat she had encouraged Obama to pursue; that seat would be up for grabs in the November 1996 elections. She asked Obama to politely withdraw from the race and offered to help him find an alternative position elsewhere.

But Obama refused to withdraw, so Palmer resolved to run against him (and two other opponents who also had declared their candidacy) in the 1996 Democratic primary. To get her name placed on the ballot, Palmer hastily gathered the minimum number of signatures required. Obama promptly challenged the legitimacy of those signatures and charged Palmer with fraud. A subsequent investigation found that a number of the names on Palmer’s signature list were invalid, thus she was knocked off the ballot. Obama also successfully challenged the signatures gathered by his other two opponents, and both were likewise disqualified. As a result, Obama ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and won by default.

“I liked Alice Palmer a lot,” Obama would later reflect. “I thought she was a good public servant. It [the process by which Obama got Palmer's name removed from the ballot] was very awkward. That part of it I wish had played out entirely differently.”

To view a comprehensive profile and some supplemental resources about Alice Palmer, click here.


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