Valerie Jarrett to lead Obama Foundation; Obama Presidential Center groundbreaking set for 2021

Jarrett, already a foundation senior adviser, steps up after President-elect Joe Biden picked Obama Foundation President Wally Adeyemo to be Deputy Treasury Secretary.

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President Obama Meets With The Democratic Governors Association

Feb. 19, 2016: Then-Vice President Joe Biden, now president-elect; then-President Barack Obama; and then-Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.

Aude Guerrucci — Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Valerie Jarrett, longtime confidante and adviser to Barack and Michelle Obama, will take over, on an interim basis, management of the Obama Foundation as the foundation also announced on Monday the long-delayed groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center will take place in 2021.

Jarrett, already a senior adviser to the foundation, steps up to a day-to-day operations role in the wake of President-elect Joe Biden picking Obama Foundation President and economist Adewale “Wally” Adeyemo to be Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.

Adeyemo, a Hyde Park resident, joined the Obama Foundation in August 2019 as its first president after serving in a variety of positions in the Obama administration.

In a statement, former President Barack Obama said, “Even as Wally moves on, we know that the Foundation will remain in good hands. We’re grateful to Valerie Jarrett for agreeing to guide the Foundation as we continue toward the construction of the Obama Presidential Center and take new steps in our work to connect and empower the next generation.

“Valerie is not just our dear friend and longtime advisor, she’s a daughter of Chicago who cares deeply about our hometown and has been with the Foundation since the very beginning,” Obama said.

Jarrett said in a statement, “I believe wholeheartedly in the mission and direction in which the Foundation is headed. I’m here to help execute the Foundation’s strategy in a very important year ahead. When President Obama asked me to help lead this organization, I was thrilled to accept and continue my efforts to build a world-class Presidential Center just a few miles from the neighborhood where I grew up and where I raised my daughter. I’m looking forward to working with this talented and dedicated team.”

Jarrett increases her role as the Hyde Park-based Obama Foundation continues to expand its domestic and global programs and as it starts a new chapter — actually building the Obama Presidential Center on 19.3 acres in Jackson Park.

After three years of federal reviews, the foundation is confident enough that an end is in sight to predict a 2021 start to construct the center. The complex centerpiece is a museum housed in a tower surrounded by a forum, green space, a combined meeting and athletic center and a Chicago Public Library branch.

Obama decided that the complex will not house the Obama Presidential Library. For now, artifacts and records from his two terms in the White House are being digitalized and organized by the National Archives and Records Administration — the agency in charge of presidential libraries in the federal system — in a nondescript building surrounded by a parking lot in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates.

The foundation could not provide a more specific date for groundbreaking until the federal agencies sign off. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic is another complicating factor in planning groundbreaking ceremonies.

There are also final details to be hammered out with the city, including the amount of an upfront payment City Hall could demand. The foundation years ago estimated the complex would cost $500 million to build and has not updated the figure.

The federal reviews were triggered because Obama decided to build his presidential center in a park listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Jackson Park, designed by the famed landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, was added to the register in 1972.

The reviews have been conducted by multiple federal agencies mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act — known as NEPA — and the National Historic Preservation Act. The first meeting of the various stakeholders for the federal review was on Dec. 1, 2017.

MORE ON JARRETT AND THE OBAMAS

Jarrett has played a pivotal role in the lives of the Obamas since first meeting Michelle when the future first lady interviewed with Jarrett for a job in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s City Hall.Before Michelle agreed, Jarrett, then Daley’s deputy chief of staff, had to pass muster with her fiance.

Since then, Jarrett has been with Obama in every step of his political career, serving in his administration its entire eight years.

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