EDITORIAL: Rahm’s last big favor for the Obama Presidential Center

SHARE EDITORIAL: Rahm’s last big favor for the Obama Presidential Center

Michael P. Kelly (left), seen in 2015 with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has headed Chicago’s parks since 2011. | Sun-Times files

We are big supporters of the Obama Presidential Center. Always have been. It’s good for Chicago and, most especially, the South Side.

But we have never much cared for the overly orchestrated way the center has been brought to town. For all the public hearings and shows of transparency, a small circle of Obama associates — at City Hall, the Chicago Park District and the University of Chicago — has largely controlled the process of where and how the center is to be built.


The presidential center will be built on parkland, which was the inner circle’s first choice. It will be built in Jackson Park, also the inner circle’s choice. It will eat up much more parkland than we first were led to believe. And roads will be eliminated or rerouted, at a cost and inconvenience that remain unclear.

There will be no community benefits agreement, though there should be one. And there still is talk of merging two modest Park District golf courses to create one championship-caliber course, which would help lure big names to the center. Problem is, you can bet the average duffer would be priced out.

We’re big on the Obama Presidential Center. Honestly. Even in Jackson Park.

But we have never liked this feeling that the fix is in.

Now, if we needed further proof, Fran Spielman and Lauren FitzPatrick of the Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Obama Center’s biggest cheerleader, has done his best to lock in Park District support for years to come — long after he leaves office in May. At least that’s how we see it.

In December, Emanuel gave Park District CEO Michael P. Kelly a contract that stretches through Dec. 31, 2022, and that could be extended into 2025. Emanuel had already announced he was not running for re-election. So he was sticking Chicago’s next mayor with Kelly’s long-term deal.

The contract was approved at the last park board meeting headed by Jesse Ruiz, who was stepping down as president. So Ruiz was calculatedly tying the next mayor’s hands, too.

Ruiz told the Sun-Times that he wanted to make sure the next mayor did not replace Kelly with a mere “political supporter,” but we don’t think that’s what this is about. The next mayor, as Ruiz knows, should be free to appoint his or her own top people.

This is really about Emanuel doing one last favor for his dearest unofficial charity, the Obama Center. He wanted to lock in Kelly, a strong ally of the center, for at least a couple more years.

Kelly would be there, then, to help fend off a lawsuit challenging the legality of putting the center in Jackson Park. And he could keep pushing his dubious plan to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.

Emanuel and Kelly should tear up his contract, which would cost the Park District hundreds of thousands of dollars to break.

Rahm should let the next mayor be mayor.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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