Hermene HartmanIn a face-to-face interview Thursday afternoon, Hermene Hartman, publisher and editor in chief of N’DIGO, a local weekly that focuses on “the black urban agenda,” said she has felt neglected by President Obama since he left Chicago for the White House. Hartman, who has known Obama since 1995 and fundraised for him in his 2004 Senate run, said the president has not invited her to Washington and that loyalty is not one of his qualities.

Her comments about Obama were in contrast with what she had to say about Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel, whom she called “very appreciative and very thankful.” Hartman—who ruffled feathers when she endorsed Rahm for mayor, dismissing the African-American “consensus” pick, Carol Moseley Braun, as “a lousy candidate”—said she has been talking to Emanuel and has agreed to serve on his inauguration committee. Here, some highlights of our conversation

CF: What’s your relationship with the Obamas?
It used to be good. It used to be superb before they got to the White House. I haven’t been invited, and I’m insulted.

CF: What’s the history of your relationship with the president?
HH: I met Barack when he was trying to get us to review Dreams from My Father. He was getting ready to run for office. [Hartman says that Obama was considering a run for alderman, and she advised him to go for a seat in the state senate.] I told him how important it was for him to make speeches on the [legislative] floor, and I said, “You’re not going to get on the aldermanic floor; Daley will shut the microphone down. Your issues are probably served better in the state than they are in City Hall.”

CF: When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, were you one of his first backers?
HH: Barack came to me, and said, “I need you to raise about $50,000 for me.” I said, “When do you need it?” [He said,] “Next week.”  I said, “You’re out of your mind. I don’t have $50,000 dollars, and if I did I wouldn’t give it to you.” [He said,] “But I gotta get it. I opened up the office, turned the phones on, the lights are on, and I gotta move forward. Don’t you know Oprah? C’mon, think of something. Michelle’s gonna kill me.” So I called a friend named Al Johnson, who was the first African-American General Motors car dealer—he was very involved with Harold Washington and John Stroger, in fundraising capacity, and over the years, we’ve done a lot of things together. I asked him to meet with Barack. [I said,] “He’s a cut above and he’s gonna be something.” They hit it off, and Al gave him $50,000. [Johnson died last year at 89].

CF: Give me an example of your work for candidate Obama in 2008?
Al Sharpton… was with Hillary. I got Sharpton to support Obama before Hillary dropped out. I called him every day for a week. [UPDATE: Sharpton spokesman Rachel Noerdlinger released the following statement on March 22nd: "Rev. Sharpton was never with Hillary Clinton, nor did he publicly support her. He did, however, meet openly with all of the candidates and nearly all of the candidates addressed National Action Network's annual national convention in 2007, including then-Senator Barack Obama. So while Rev. Sharpton was encouraged by many people including Hermene Hartman to support Barack Obama, it was Lamell McMorris who set up the initial meeting. Rev. Sharpton was very impressed with the sincerity and sensitivity in particular of Valerie Jarrett as he met the President's team. He and President Obama had several subsequent meetings, one that was quite public at Sylvia's Restaurant in Harlem, New York, but after two or three meetings with him Rev. Sharpton conclusively decided on his own to support him."]

CF: Care to share more on your current feelings about President Obama?
There’s a whole backroom, black community story on Barack that the white media hasn’t paid attention to. Barack was not launched by Penny Pritzker for the presidency.  Barack was launched by black businesspeople. I call them the “Day One people.” We’ve not been to the White House; we’ve not had appointments. I have barked a little bit about it.

CF: Did you ever express your disappointment to old Chicago friends who went to Washington with Obama?
I said something to Valerie Jarrett. I haven’t seen Valerie since she has been in the White House. That whole group—they forgot… or they don’t care.  

CF: You mentioned that you’re a friend of [former White House Social Secretary] Desiree Rogers. I’m surprised that you didn’t end up at one of the White House parties before she was pushed out of the job.
HH: I am, too. We all are. Barack is not necessarily loyal. In Chicago politics, that’s rule number one: be loyal; dance with the one who brought you. I see that as a key trait. I see Rahm having it. Rahm is very appreciative and very thankful. I was very loyal to Barack, but he has not been loyal to some of the people who were there for him from day one. That’s my personal disappointment in him. Did you outgrow us, or did you forget?


Photograph: N'Digo.com