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Emanuel, N.Y. mayor in high-stakes race for Obama library

WASHINGTON — In a quest to land the Obama presidential library and museum, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Bill de Blasio are putting the heft of their respective City Halls behind universities in Chicago and New York submitting bids next week.

I caught up with Emanuel, who was here on Wednesday, and asked him if he had any message for de Blasio, who is championing Columbia University.

“Work on the DNC convention. Your time will be better spent,” Emanuel said.

That’s a reference to the contest for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, where Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is competing with venues in Columbus, Ohio, and Philadelphia.


It’s a high-stakes rivalry: A Cubs-Mets; White Sox-Yankees; Bears-Jets; Blackhawks-Rangers; Bulls-Knicks sort of thing. Each city claims some of President Barack Obama’s history — though his ties to Chicago are longer and stronger.

But the president and first lady Michelle, who will make the final decision, are looking for competition to raise the ante to take at least some of the initial pressure off for them for what will be a lifetime of massive fundraising for the library and museum after they leave the White House.

Behind Emanuel’s joking smack talk has been months of City Hall work behind the scenes to bolster the bids of the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago, due on Dec. 11.

De Blasio is “doing what he is supposed to be do as mayor. I’m doing what I am supposed to do for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel told me.

There has been a string of meetings between Emanuel’s library team, led by his chief policy adviser, David Spielfogel, and the University of Chicago’s Susan Sher — the former chief of staff to Michelle Obama — and Michael Redding, UIC’s executive associate chancellor of public and government affairs.

Emanuel favors the U. of C., with its three South Side site proposals, over UIC and its three West Side locations. The three U. of C. sites — never officially acknowledged by the school — all involve Chicago Park District land, including the South Shore Cultural Center on the Lake Michigan shore.

Nonetheless, Emanuel’s City Hall is working separately with both the U. of C. and UIC to make sure that each bid includes a strong package of city incentives tailored to the six sites.

“We as a city will make assisted investments” in tourism, parks, physical infrastructure and more, Emanuel said.

Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, has a more complex situation than de Blasio, who only has to deal with Columbia with one location.

Marti Adams, a de Blasio spokeswoman told me in an email, “The Administration has had detailed discussions with Columbia about its plans and is tremendously excited about the proposal, and we stand ready to support the bid however we can.”

The de Blasio administration is already focusing on West Harlem redevelopment — the community to be most affected if an Obama facility was constructed at Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus.

In addition, the city of New York’s tourism and marketing organizations have “committed its highly respected expertise and resources to global, national and regional promotion to help position the Obama venue as a vital new cultural attraction within one of the world’s major tourism destinations.”

The Chicago-based Barack Obama Foundation bid document is filled with requirements for the bidders — with the University of Hawaii the fourth contender.

The asks range from details “regarding the capital commitment by the university to the development and construction of the Project as well as funds available to support the annual operations of the Project” to pledges from city, state, county and other local governments for a variety of items “to enhance the development.”

The foundation shopping list for government-related assistance includes:

◆ “Funding, support and opportunities for educational partnerships with local schools.”

◆ Park, streetscapes and landscapes improvements around the facility and the surrounding community.

◆ “Investments to create jobs and spur economic development, including “Tax Increment Financing (TIF)/other financing recommendations.”

◆ And plans for public safety and road, bike, pedestrian and other transit infrastructure improvements.

There’s a lot more, such as a request for a description “of any plans to provide office space to the President, First Lady and staff beginning in 2017” until the library and museum opens.