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For Obama, bipartisan aims, party-line votes

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Even so, Kellman says, the DCP's accomplishments under Obama were limited. "Poverty remains. Structural unemployment remains. Bad schools remain," says Kellman, now a Catholic lay minister in Chicago. "We were able to whittle around the edges of it but not successfully change things."

Perhaps more lasting, he says, were the "individual success stories" of the local residents Obama worked with, many of whom gained the skills and self-confidence to find new jobs and move to better neighborhoods.

Obama left for Harvard Law School in 1988 on the belief that he needed to work at a higher level – as a lawyer, a public official – to bring about broader change.

But the decision was not straightforward. In his 1995 memoir "Dreams from My Father," he questions whether in leaving Chicago he was partly fleeing the reality of his own "inconsequence." "Maybe once you stripped away the rationalizations, it always came down to a simple matter of escape."

He returned to Chicago after law school and worked as a civil rights lawyer and university lecturer before running for state Senate in 1996. He pledged to bring his collaborative approach to Springfield.

But there was little evidence of collegiality in that first campaign. Alice Palmer, a state senator and fellow community organizer on the South Side, had decided to run for Congress and encouraged Obama to seek her seat. After Ms. Palmer lost, her supporters asked Obama to step aside so she could keep her Senate post. Not only did Obama refuse, but he challenged the signatures on her election petitions, driving her out of the race.

The idealist had learned that politics sometimes meant playing rough.

A record on civil rights

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