Mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia sought Wednesday to reassure President Barack Obama’s Library Foundation that it has nothing to fear if he is elected mayor of Chicago.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a former White House chief of staff who has been working hand-in-glove with the University of Chicago and the Obama Library Foundation.
When the foundation privately complained that the centerpiece of the U of C’s bid was up to 21 acres of land in either Washington or Jackson Parks controlled by the Chicago Park District, Emanuel quickly resolved those questions and authorized a transfer of that South Side parkland to the city.
A joint City Council committee signed off on that transaction on Wednesday.
Garcia initially opposed the use of parkland for the Obama library before changing his mind to avoid alienating African-American voters who are expected to decide the runoff.
That gave pause to an Obama library foundation that doesn’t want to deal with the uncertainty of Chicago’s mayoral politics — particularly after Garcia managed to force Emanuel into a runoff.
Earlier this week, the foundation put off a final decision between Chicago and New York until after the April 7 runoff.
Implied, but not stated, was the fact that the foundation wants a guarantee of unwavering support from Garcia that it has not yet received — and assurances that local assistance promised will be delivered. If that means denying Emanuel a pre-election gift, so be it.
On Wednesday, Garcia did his best to provide that verbal guarantee.
“I have stated unequivocally from the first day that I took a position that I favor the Obama library coming to Chicago. I served with President Obama in the Illinois Senate. We served on a local foundation board. We both come from community organizing. It belongs in Chicago. This is the home of the President Obama legacy. It should be here,” Garcia said.
“There are only two sites under consideration: A South Side site and a West Side site. Whatever decision is made about a site in Chicago, I will wholeheartedly support with respect to the two applications that are pending” by U of C and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Emanuel has promised to “move heaven and earth” to deliver the coveted prize for Chicago and cash in on what he has called a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
What specifically is a Mayor Garcia prepared to do to make it happen?
“I will work to make the library a success. I look forward to welcoming President Obama to begin the construction process in the next year or so,” said Garcia, who has not yet met with or reached out to the Obama library foundation.
Garcia made his comments at the Cook County building after accepting the endorsement of fellow Cook County commissioners Luis Arroyo Jr., Richard Boykin, Robert Steele and Stanley Moore.
All week long, Garcia has been rolling out endorsements to create the perception of political momentum. On Monday, it was the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. On Tuesday, he welcomed former Illinois Senate President Emil Jones. Wednesday, it was his fellow county board members.
Garcia was asked why all of the endorsements have come from African-Americans and Hispanics. Where, he was asked, is his white support in this racially divided city?
“If you look at the election results from Feb. 24, you’ll see that I did very well in the Northwest and Southwest Sides of Chicago. That support will only grow. It’s a new ballgame. Take note of it,” Garcia said.
“My candidacy represents Chicago, the ethnic groups, the racial groupings. It is the coalition that is completely diverse. . . . As we move forward, this will be the campaign that changes Chicago politics forever. The fact that 19 members of the City Council or prospective members are in runoff elections is a clear sign that voters on Feb. 24 voted for change. That will continue through the April 7 runoff.”
Television cameras recording Wednesday’s news conference initially set up with the Office of County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the background.
They were told to turn around prior to the start of the news conference for fear that a view of the office door with Preckwinkle’s name on it would “imply an endorsement of Garcia.” Preckwinkle is still officially neutral in the race, despite her difficult relationship with Emanuel and her close relationship with Garcia, who serves as Preckwinkle’s floor leader on the County Board.