Chicago Tribune continues multi-part series on Obama

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Barack Obama packed his few belongings into his newly purchased but creaky old Honda and headed west from New York into a political and social battle zone.

When the raw 23-year-old community organizer hit Chicago in early 1985, the racially charged fighting between Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor, and white ethnic aldermen led by Ed Vrdolyak had earned the city a bitter nickname: Beirut on the Lake.

Obama learned just how bitter on his first trip to a Hyde Park barber, who recalled how Washington's victory two years earlier had sent African-Americans into the streets "like the day Joe Louis knocked out [Max] Schmeling," Obama writes in his memoir, "Dreams from My Father."

But Obama, the youthful outsider, brought a decidedly practical view of the Washington-Vrdolyak bouts to the Far South Side community he was organizing.

"They're not enemies, he used to tell us. They're both working for their constituents, and they have to do this," recalled Loretta Herron, a founding member of Obama's Developing Communities Project. "Whoever can help you reach your goal, that's who you work with. … There are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies."

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