The U. of C. makes its play for the Obama library | Bleader

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The U. of C. makes its play for the Obama library

Posted By on 01.15.15 at 03:20 PM

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Presenters and the audience watched a video presentation at a Park District hearing on the Obama Presidential Library.
  • Brian Jackson/Sun-Times Media
  • Parks officials and the audience watched a video presentation at a Park District hearing on the Obama Presidential Library.
I thought about going incognito to Tuesday night's big south-side public hearing on the Obama Presidential Library, wearing an Inspector Clouseau mustache and hat, and speaking in a fractured French accent.

That's cause I knew the meeting was going to be packed with people who want to put the library in one of two south-side parks, and I'm the guy who's been waving the flag for the west-side site.

Even though, in the back of my mind, I realize there's probably a greater chance of the mayor teaming with the president to put the library in my backyard than in a poor neighborhood like North Lawndale. Even if that location makes the most sense.

Sure enough, it's pretty obvious that most of the 1,000 or so people who have crammed into Hyde Park high school for this Park District hearing don't want to hear one word about the west side.

As far as I can tell, their attitude toward the west side's a little like Mayor Rahm's—they know it's there, but they don't want anything to do with it.

The overriding sentiment of the hearing's first few speakers—including mayoral allies, like Bishop Byron Brazier and Leon Finney—goes like this . . .

President and Michelle Obama are from the south side. So their library's got to go on the south side. And if that means paving parts of Jackson or Washington parks then—start up the bulldozers!

After about a half hour of this testimony, I had the following exchange with a woman in a "bring it home" T-shirt, who happened to be standing next to me . . .

Me: What kind of dumb-ass city would put a presidential library in a park when we've got thousands of vacant lots all over the place that we could put it?

Woman in T-shirt: He's our president and the library belongs on the south side!

As you can see, even a brilliant logician, such as myself, can't really argue with this kind of logic.

At the risk of being the guy who goes left when everyone else is going right, allow me to point out that President Obama is not really from Chicago.

It's true, he came here as a young man to start his political career. But, as far as I can tell, he was maneuvering to get out of this political cesspool almost from the start.

Or at least as long ago as 2000, when he ran his ill-fated campaign against Congressman Bobby Rush.

Moreover, it's not even certain that the president wants to put his library in Chicago. Why else would he invite America to compete for the honor of winning that designation?

I'll say this: Tuesday's public hearing was a masterfully orchestrated event, choreographed by some pretty clever players.

Like Bishop Brazier, who brought in four buses of exuberant library supporters from his nearby house of worship, Apostolic Church of God.

And Mayor Rahm, who's sort of made it clear he'd consider landfilling Lake Michigan from Burnham Harbor to Promontory Point for the library if that's what it takes to win just enough south-side votes to avoid a runoff.

And, of course, the University of Chicago, whose representatives at the meeting tried not to smile as they watched one south-side resident after another wave the flag on their behalf.

Just so you know—the hearing was called by the Park District so the public would have a chance to weigh in on whether it was a good idea to turn over public parkland for the library.

I stayed till the hearing was over and the last of the speakers had spoken.

For the record, there were at least as many nays as yeas among the speakers—it's just that the yeas got to speak first, before much of the media had left.

Many speakers made a point of starting by saying how much they want the library to come to Chicago before going on to rip into the U. of C., asking why the university would want to put the library on valuable parkland, when it currently owns about 11 acres of land just down the street near 55th and King Drive?

The U. of C.'s representatives didn't directly address that issue in their presentation.

My guess is that the university's just being smart.

Put it this way—why should the university leaders turn over that 11 acres for the library, when they know the mayor's more than willing to put the library in either Jackson or Washington parks.

If you put the library in the park, the university's free to build some kind of commercial development on its 11 acres—probably TIF funded, if I know this bunch—and grab a big chunk of that economic stimulus the library will bring.

In short, they're manipulating the love and respect south-siders have for the country's first black president in order to pull off a land grab.

And they've got ordinary south side residents cheering them on as they do it.

I'd call it the most shameful act of deception of the last few years, if not for Mayor Rahm's recent pre-K scam.

That's the one where he's forking over as much as $17 million in public school dollars to some of the world's richest bankers. All in the name of helping educate our most impoverished children.

If the Obamas do bring the library "home" to the south side, I hope they dedicate a display or two to these kinds of machinations, so visitors will know what Chicago is really like.

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