Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday danced around the most controversial element of former President Barack Obama’s Presidential Center in Jackson Park: The proposal to close Cornell Drive at the expense of thousands of daily commuters.
One day after his former boss unveiled the library in a campus design, Emanuel was asked whether he supports the plan to close Cornell Drive between 60th and 67th Streets to add as much as 5 acres of new parkland.
That’s almost certain to anger and inconvenience motorists who use the interior roadway every day to connect from South Lake Shore Drive to Stony Island Avenue and the Chicago Skyway.
Emanuel had already walked away from the microphones when a reporter asked the uncomfortable question, then pivoted back to the microphones.
“That would be called a Pas de deux,” the former ballet dancer said, referring to a dance duet in which two dancers, typically a male and a female, perform ballet steps together.
“Watch this answer and you’ll see a dance.”
Then he launched into his political dance, otherwise known as the side-step.
“I support the presidential campus. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the entire city. . . . It’s part of his presidency. But it’s also a campus that then looks forward to making sure that social political activity and action continues,” Emanuel said.
The mayor then reiterated what Obama said: This week’s unveiling marks the “beginning of a process” with area residents.
“I’m gonna make sure that we work through this in a collaborative way, that peoples’ voices are heard, but we ensure that, at the end of the day, we keep our eye on the prize, and that is we build the presidential campus/library in the city of Chicago, which is why I fought so hard to have it,” the mayor said. “Peoples’ voices will get heard. But this is in my view, a significant milestone for the entire city of Chicago.”
Emanuel then walked away from the microphones — again as a reporter asked aloud, “Was that a `yes’ to the closing of Cornell Drive?
“You’ll have to interpret the music,” he said.
Obama didn’t dance at all around the controversial road-closing. He confronted the politically uncomfortable subject head-on and urged his supporters not to get so “fixated on traffic that we lose sight of what’s possible.”
“What we have said is, ‘Let’s restore Jackson Park to the original vision and let’s make sure that traffic is accommodated both on Lake Shore Drive as well as down along 59th Street,’ ” the former President said.
Obama said traffic studies have shown the closure may add one to three minutes to the typical commute, but he added that there is hope to get that down to “zero.”
“We are confident that we will not be adding to commute times,” he said.
He also tried to pitch the road closing as an extra level of safety.
“You can’t have little kids playing right next to the road. . . You can’t have sledding into the road.”
Also on Thursday, Emanuel flatly predicted that the U.S. Senate will reject the Republican bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
He cited four reasons: coverage for pre-existing conditions; coverage for children until age 26; coverage with 20 million people “who never had” health insurance; and a reduction in “health care inflation.”
“That’s why I think the Senate is gonna look at this and say this is a nonstarter and won’t happen,” the mayor said.
“That’s not gonna go anywhere because people now have a tangible benefit — not a theoretical debate.”