Former President Barack Obama surprised a group of invited community members at a meeting at the Obama Foundation’s Hyde Park Headquarters on Tuesday, making a personal appearance to thank the group for its support.
“This was the base from which I was able to launch my first Senate race and this was the foundation upon which I ran for president,” Obama said. “This community has given everything to me.”
The meeting, at 5235 S. Harper Court, was called to provide an update on the Obama Center’s programming and a chance for the former president to thank the pre-selected group of community members, that included Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), author and historian Timuel Black and others who spoke at the Chicago City Council’s Plan Commission in May when the plans were approved.
Earlier, the former president met with 20 students who were part of the One Summer Chicago program, a city program that is designed to provide summer job and educational opportunities to young people, one of his spokesmen said.
Obama and Mayor Rahm Emanuel visited Eric Solorio Academy High School, where students were working on developing applications for smartphones.
The back-to-back visits came exactly ten years after Obama made history by becoming the first African American to accept a major party presidential nomination, giving his acceptance speech Aug. 28, 2008, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
But Obama focused his remarks Tuesday on his ties to Chicago, where he launched his political career as a state senator, ran for the U.S. Senate and held his 2008 party after winning the presidency.
“This is where I won my first political race,” the former president said, noting that the headquarters were only half a block away from his first apartment. “And this is where I lost my only political race.”
That was a reference to Obama’s run for Congress in 2000, a failed challenge the president has joked ended in a “spanking” from incumbent Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush.
The Chicago City Council approved a land transfer for the center in May, but they are still under federal review — the vote means the city is making a $175 million commitment to public infrastructure improvements needed to accommodate the center.
Some park activists have also brought a federal lawsuit against the foundation in an attempt to slow down the process.
While many support the center coming to the city’s Woodlawn neighborhood, some have asked for a community benefits agreement to protect the affordable housing stock in the area and to guarantee the Obama Foundation follows through on its promises. Others are concerned the center will negatively alter the landscape of Jackson Park.
Obama and his team at the center have said they will not sign a community agreement. Earlier this month, the Chicago Park District began cutting down trees to make way for a track field being displaced by the incoming presidential center.
Before he left, Obama said that the goal for the project is to make sure it’s on schedule and on budget.
“Thanks to all of your efforts we are close to getting this thing going,” Obama told the group.
“Not only do we expect this to be a museum that makes the South Side proud … but the enhancements that we’re going to be bringing to the park … is something that I’m hoping generations of Chicagoans are going to enjoy for years to come,” he said.