WASHINGTON — The Obamas will always have a presence on Chicago’s South Side, even if they never return to live full time in the city.
“My old life? I don’t know if that’s possible,” first lady Michelle Obama said in April 2012.
On Tuesday, the Obamas said Chicago’s South Side will be the home of their Obama Presidential Center and the Barack Obama Foundation. The center will be associated with the University of Chicago.
The foundation said outposts also will be established in connection with Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
Building the Obama center in either Jackson Park or Washington Park will keep the Obamas forever connected to the South Side community where Michelle Obama was raised and where the president launched his political career.
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The partnerships they expect the Obama center will create with the University of Chicago, the surrounding neighborhoods, elementary and high schools and other institutions — not to mention the economic boost — will be a tangible benefit for generations to come.
But every sign points to the first couple not taking up full-time residence in Chicago after they leave the White House in January 2017.
For starters, Obama told ABC News in 2013 that daughter Sasha “will have a big vote in where we are” when he leaves office. Sasha will be a high school sophomore at the Sidwell Friends School here. Malia is expected to be in college.
We know the Obamas are fond of his native Hawaii, Palm Springs and New York.
It would not be surprising if the Obama center in Chicago or a foundation outpost in New York includes a residence. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum has a penthouse apartment for the former president.
The Obamas’ Kenwood home at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. has not become a Chicago White House, with home visits rare.
At the White House “Take Your Child to Work Day” on April 28, 2011, a little boy asked Michelle Obama, “Do you like the White House better than your old house?”
“There are a lot of memories there, so nothing beats memories. But we’re creating new memories here,” she said. “And in so many ways, this is home now.”
Almost exactly a year later, on April 26, 2012, in what was called the “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day,” a child asked Michelle Obama, “Would you ever want to move back to your old life?”
Her answer was unexpectedly profound.
“My old life? I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said.
“We still have our house in Chicago, and it’s there, and we go back and visit. But who knows what — I don’t know what the future holds.
“. . . So I’m not sure. I’m not sure whether the old life will be there. But that’s a very profound question. Thank you for that.”
As for the University of Chicago, the first lady’s views over the years have reflected the progress the school has made to improve relations with its neighbors.
On May 16, 2009, she talked about the U. of Chicago in a commencement address at the University of California, Merced.
“That university never played a meaningful role in my academic development,” she said. “The institution made no effort to reach out to me — a bright and promising student in their midst — and I had no reason to believe there was a place for me there. Therefore, when it came time for me to apply to college, I never for one second considered the university in my own backyard as a viable option.”
I asked Jarrett about those 2009 comments in light of the steps the school has made to reach out to and engage students near its Hyde Park campus.
Jarrett said Michelle Obama “would point to that as an example of an enormous amount of progress that the University has made, recognizing the fact that they have a wonderful talent pool right there.”