Last week comedienne-actress Roseanne Barr managed to get herself fired by ABC from her rebooted TV sitcom following her highly unflattering tweet about the facial features of Valerie Jarrett (in photo), longtime political consigliere to Barack Obama. Roseanne’s words were clearly over the line. But despite issuing a profuse apology, she’s now eternally marked as a “racist.” The saddest thing about all this was that Jarrett was portrayed to be a victim.
Roseanne Barr, now 65, a native of Salt Lake City, made her initial reputation during the Eighties as a stand-up comedienne. Her schtick suggested manic depression with a dose of laughing gas. In 1988 she snagged a television deal with ABC in which she would star in her own situation comedy as a “working-class domestic goddess.” The show, Roseanne, instantly caught fire. She would win an Emmy, a Golden Globe and other awards during its nine-year run. During those last two years, she was the highest-paid woman in show business next to Oprah Winfrey. Since cancellation, she assumed a lower profile but remained active. Last year she pitched the idea of a Roseanne revival to ABC. The network took a chance. And it paid off. The March 27 premiere generated high ratings. The network promptly renewed the series for another season. Once again, the lady was sitting tall in the saddle.
Now she isn’t. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, May 29, Ms. Barr, apparently under the influence of Ambien, sent out several tweets to followers, one of which read, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.” For the next several hours social media lit up with denunciations of Barr and ABC. Barr was contrite. She tweeted late that morning: “I apologize to Valerie Jarrett and to all Americans. I am truly sorry for making a bad joke about her politics and her looks. I should have known better. Forgive me. My joke was in bad taste.” But it was too late. ABC, in full damage control mode, cancelled her show. And Roseanne’s comeback was no more.
All of this was unnecessary. And the irony is that if Roseanne really wanted to give Valerie Jarrett and her circle of friends an old-fashioned political bitch-slap she could have referred to Jarrett’s lucrative career as a Chicago housing developer. For until Ms. Jarrett left Chicago nearly a decade ago to become President Barack Obama’s chief political adviser, she had been executive vice president and then CEO of Habitat Co., a Chicago-based real estate company that managed subsidized low-income residential multifamily projects in the city. The subsidies, which came from a variety of federal, state and local sources, were not enough to prevent certain projects from becoming virtually uninhabitable. Indeed, the subsidies may have enabled irresponsible behavior.
Barack Obama had a lot to do with this. As a state senator for eight years, he co-authored an Illinois law creating a pool of real estate development tax credits. Several recipients of this largesse expressed their gratitude by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for his political campaigns. One of these developer-fundraisers was the aforementioned Valerie Jarrett, the person more responsible than anyone else for Obama’s political rise. Another was Tony Rezko, a close friend of Barack and Michelle Obama who at one point even had arranged for the sale of a home to the couple. Rezko’s company, Rezmar, used government subsidies to rehabilitate over 1,000 apartments, especially in and around Senator Obama’s district. Once the work was done, Rezko used a variety of illegal means to retain his properties without doing anything for them. He would be indicted on multiple federal kickback charges, convicted in 2011, and sentenced to 10.5 years in prison (though released in July 2015). And there was Allison Davis, an Obama fundraiser and partner at Obama’s former law firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland. He, too, seemed to care little for tenant well-being. In one case, city building inspectors noted raw sewage spilling from the plumbing.
The worst of the troubled Chicago projects was Grove Parc Plaza, a 504-unit apartment complex managed by Valerie Jarrett’s Habitat Co. The project, built in the 1960s as public housing and then transferred to private ownership where it reopened in 1990 following extensive rehab work, decayed in a hurry. An investigative report for the Boston Globe described the Habitat Co.-managed site this way in 2008:
About 99 of the units are vacant, many rendered uninhabitable by unfixed problems, such as collapsed roofs and fire damage. Mice scamper through the halls. Battered mailboxes hang open. Sewage backs up into kitchen sinks. In 2006, federal inspectors graded the condition of the complex an 11 on a 100-point scale – a score so bad the buildings now face demolition.
Tenants especially weren’t happy. One resident who had lived there since 1994 told the Globe, “No one should have to live like this, and no one did anything about it.” A new management team eventually took over Grove Parc Plaza and demolished it to make room for a mixed-use development.
Tom Anderson, who heads National Legal and Policy Center’s Government Integrity Project and who in fact spent a good part of his own youth in public housing, notes that low-income housing is a viable investment as long as management is responsive to tenants. That wasn’t the case with Grove Parc Plaza. “Valerie Jarrett was more interested in making a quick buck than doing what it took to maintain the premises,” he said. “These problems didn’t occur when the local housing authority managed it. I know this for a fact. The bottom line is that Jarrett was a slumlord.”
Valerie Jarrett professes not to be offended by Roseanne Barr. Yet true to the spirit of her protégé Barack Obama, she called Barr’s heat-of-the-moment tweet a “teachable moment.” In Obamaspeak, a teachable moment usually refers to a newfound opportunity to inflict more “diversity” upon the nation. While Ms. Jarrett’s allies are holding her up as a victim of an ostensibly racist political culture responsible for electing President Trump, the truth is she’s not a victim of anything. Indeed, her history of apartment mismanagement suggests she’s pretty good at creating victims.