Chicago to make unified bid for Obama presidential library

Written By By LYNN SWEET Washington Bureau Chief Posted: 02/25/2014, 12:40am

WASHINGTON — Chicago is going to make one unified bid for President Barack Obama’s Presidential Library and Museum, with the University of Chicago and other city schools not making solo plays, Mayor Rahm Emanuel told me Thursday.

“We are going to run a process. But my goal is to have the City of Chicago, with its major educational institutions, have a single proposal,” Emanuel said.

“I don’t expect us to win this based on some sentiment toward the city,” Emanuel said.

As for his pitch to Obama, “I will remind him about his roots in Chicago, but I expect us to be as a city and as university systems competitive and to be very competitive in our proposal to have it come to Chicago.”

I have handicapped Obama’s library/museum as the University of Chicago’s to lose given its very close ties to the Obama family and its long list of wealthy potential donors in the Obama orbit.

With Emanuel moving to consolidate the city’s resources for a bid, University of Chicago has little choice but to forge an alliance with Emanuel, because it brings Emanuel’s own formidable fundraising abilities to the package.

City Hall has already been working internally on the project, Emanuel said. “Let me say this. It is important for the city to have the president’s library in his hometown, and we will be very competitive in our proposal, and we have put a lot of thought into it.”

Emanuel — Obama’s former chief of staff — and I talked about Obama’s library and museum while he was here to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter gathering and to work his former White House precincts.

His comments come as Chicago’s primacy as the location of the Obama legacy project faces potential stiff competition from Columbia University in New York, which confirmed its interest in the project earlier this month.

Columbia’s vast financial resources and New York’s concentration of possible donors could make the school a contender even if Obama’s connections to the city are not strong.

Obama received his undergraduate degree in political science from Columbia in 1983 after attending only two years. Former President Bill Clinton has his office in Harlem, not far from a site Columbia wants to offer.

Even if it’s a long shot, Columbia jumping in raises the ante for Chicago, so there is no incentive for the Obama team to discourage it.

Emanuel visited with the president in the Oval Office in the afternoon and met with, among others, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco. Jarrett and Mastromonaco are part of the small group dealing with Obama’s future after the White House.

The University of Chicago, which has been working on a proposal for more than a year, in secret and with no public input, wants the Obama library/museum near its Hyde Park campus. University of Chicago executive Susan Sher, the former chief of staff for Mrs. Obama, is leading the school’s drive.

The U. of C.’s competition in the city comes from the University of Illinois-Chicago and Chicago State University, but these schools have little fundraising ability compared to the powerhouse money the U. of C. can muster.

I asked Emanuel about his site preferences and he told me, “the location I am interested in is the City of Chicago.”

A U. of C. source told me the school has little interest in helping raise multi-millions of dollars for an Obama library if it is not near the South Side school. That’s their leverage in location selection.

City Hall considers the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 29th and Ellis — close to downtown and an easy trip for tourists — as too big and too costly to develop.

Obama’s close friend, Marty Nesbitt, and Julianna Smoot, a deputy manager of the 2012 re-election campaign, are going to co-chair the soon-to-be-formed Obama foundation, the entity that will oversee the selection process and fundraising.

Nesbitt has already been laying the groundwork. “Marty and I are friends. We talk all he time,” Emanuel said.

The formal announcement of the creation of a foundation is expected sometime after Obama’s State of the Union address next Tuesday.

While the State of Hawaii has been working on plans to lure the library/museum of its native son, the Hawaiians can’t come close to raising Chicago or New York money.

Emanuel has raised millions from city-based corporations for the NATO Summit in Chicago in 2012 and his $50 million fund to help at-risk city youths. He also has raised millions for his 2015 re-election campaign from individuals with the ability to write (with Emanuel nudging) mega-checks for a project that will be a destination tourist attraction and boost the city’s economy.

Obama and first lady Michelle are interested, I am told, in a robust funding package to launch their library/museum so they are not weighed down with never-ending fundraising obligations as they start a new chapter of their lives after leaving office in January 2017.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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