Sweet: Obama’s legacy — he will always be Chicago’s president
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WASHINGTON — Oh, Chicago, we will miss having the president be one of our own.
After eight years, we’ve gotten used to it.
President Barack Obama. First lady Michelle Obama. South Siders, both. They made us proud to be Chicagoans.
We set aside our sides — North, South, West, Southwest, Southeast — and with one voice in Grant Park on election night in 2008 we celebrated. A Chicagoan had won the presidency.
Obama’s most tangible Chicago legacy will be the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, which will last beyond our lifetimes.
But consider, too, the intangibles of his legacy, things that Chicagoans share and will pass on about Obama to our next generation because we were there from the start.
No matter our political ideology, race, gender, religion or income, we have a story to tell. We were there when a state senator from Hyde Park with a funny name catapulted from Springfield to the White House — with a brief stop in the U.S. Senate — all in the span of about four years.
A Chicagoan broke a racial barrier and became the nation’s first African-American president. And then he won a second term, running both national campaigns from headquarters in downtown Chicago.
We can’t sugarcoat this: Chicago has been grappling with persistent problems with violence these years while Obama has been in the White House. The city’s longstanding, race-related problems and festering issues with the police department did not vanish just because Obama was the president. There were 780 murders in Chicago in 2016.
That doesn’t diminish the fact, though, that Obama is “indelibly in the fabric of Chicago, the history of Chicago,” said Bill Daley, a former Obama White House chief of staff who is part of Chicago history himself as the son and brother of Chicago mayors.
“He made us all so proud,” said John Rogers, founder of Ariel Investments, who met the man who would be president years before he first ran for elected office.
Rogers got to know Michelle Obama first, being friends with her basketball star-brother Craig Robinson. That would lead to Rogers scrimmaging early on with Obama on a basketball court.
In Chicago, Obama became “so deeply connected to so many people from all walks of life,” said Rogers. “He reflects the diversity of our great city.”
When Obama crooned a few lines from “Sweet Home Chicago” at the White House in 2012 with blues legend B.B. King, you knew he meant it.
So let’s recap the intangible ties that collectively bind us to this president.
We were there when Obama delivered a defining speech against the Iraq war in October 2002 at the Federal Plaza downtown.
We were there in 2004 for his come-from-behind March victory in the Illinois Democratic Senate primary, which led to his speech that summer at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, setting the stage for a presidential run.
We were there on a frigid day in February 2007 when Obama kicked off his first presidential campaign in front of the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
We were there in Grant Park on election night in November 2008.
We were there when he brought world leaders to Chicago in May 2012 for the NATO Summit.
We were there at McCormick Place in November 2012 to mark his second election as president.
We were there in 2013 when Obama and the first lady tried to help and console the city in the wake of the murder of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager caught in gang crossfire at a park not far from the Obamas’ Kenwood home.
We were there in October 2014 at Northwestern University in Evanston when Obama touted his Affordable Care Act, economic programs and the need to raise the minimum wage, all threatened by congressional Republicans.
We were there in November 2014 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., when Obama talked about his new immigration executive order to shield DREAMers from deportation.
We were there in February 2015 when Obama designated the historic Pullman district a national monument at the Gwendolyn Brooks Prep Academy, 250 E. 111th St. “Without this place, Michelle wouldn’t be where she was,” said Obama, speaking of his wife, the great-granddaughter of a Pullman porter.
We were there when Mrs. Obama, in June, 2015 — when Hadiya would have graduated from King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd. — came home to deliver the commencement address to her class.
We were there when Obama talked with police chiefs from around the nation meeting in Chicago in October 2015 about finding common ground with the people they police.
We were there at the state Capitol when he returned to Springfield last February and lamented to the Illinois General Assembly that the “tone of our politics hasn’t gotten better since I was inaugurated, in fact it’s gotten worse.”
We were there last April when Obama returned to the University of Chicago Law School, where he once taught, to make the case for his Supreme Court nominee, Chicago native Merrick Garland, whose nomination was stalled by Republicans blocking a vote.
We were there in October when he came home to stump and raise money for new Sen. Tammy Duckworth.
On Tuesday, Obama will be back in Chicago, at McCormick Place, to deliver his farewell speech — his last time in the city as president.
And we will be there.
OBAMA’S LEGACY — Ahead in the series
Monday: What’s next for Obama
Tuesday: Obamas come home
Wednesday: Farewell speech
Thursday: What he leaves us