He was publishing books on education, helping lead a charge to get grant money for school reform and being honored as Chicago's Citizen of the Year in 1997.
Today, some say this was an outrage. Ayers should have been shunned and marginalized, loudly criticized, not embraced, by the city's political and academic establishment.
But the record shows he just wasn't a very controversial figure. Aside from Royko's "I still think he's a jerk" column in 1990, I found only two objections to Ayers' civic rehabilitation in the decade's news archives: a 1993 letter to the Tribune and a 1999 guest commentary.
If there were protests or organized efforts opposing Ayers, the papers didn't cover them.
If any of Mayor Richard M. Daley's feckless opponents tried to use his approval of Ayers as an issue in the 1990s, I can find no evidence of it.
And if any of the pillars of society who helped oversee the Chicago Annenberg Challenge education grants ever resigned or otherwise tried to distance themselves from Ayers, who played a key role in securing those grants, the available historical record is silent on the matter.It appears that during the period that Obama encountered him, Ayers literally was "just a guy in the neighborhood."
On the other hand, during the years that Todd Palin was a member of the Alaska Independence Party when Sarah Palin attended one convention and addressed another, the AIP openly advocated giving Alaskans the opportunity to vote themselves out of the United States. I suspect that the Palins encountered a lot more open hostility to America than Obama ever encountered with William Ayers.