Advocates for placing the library in Chicago speak of Obama’s coming of age as a community organizer there and his service in the Illinois Senate and as the state’s U.S. senator. They say a presidential library on the city’s South Side could revitalize the community and be a force for economic growth.
“It’s not for me to say,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, told AP recently.
Hawaii advocates note that Honolulu attracts millions of tourists. They point to Obama’s vaunted pivot to Asia as a foreign policy focus and say a presidential library housed in the nation’s foothold in the Asia-Pacific region would be a powerful symbol.
“Honolulu is my birthplace. It’s the place where I grew up, and I met so many friends and fond memories, and it helped to shape me, so I’d like to find a way that after my presidency that connection remains,” Obama said in an interview last month with KITV, an ABC affiliate in Honolulu. “But, you know, I live in Chicago now, and that’s where I grew up professionally.”
It’s not necessarily a win-lose proposition. Previous presidents have set up complex institutions and presidential centers that, in addition to a library, include other elements like a museum, think tank or foundation. Many advocates are anticipating that Obama could split up those institutions, putting the library in one state and the other components in the other. The White House declined to comment on deliberations concerning Obama’s future library.
The emerging consensus in Honolulu is that the state university is best prepared to house the library. But there’s no such sense of agreement in Chicago, where a host of groups are publicly stumping on behalf of other sites on Chicago’s South Side, where Michelle Obama grew up, voters first sent Barack Obama to public office and the Obama family has their home.
In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a cultural landmark for African Americans not far from the University of Chicago, a vocal group of activists is pushing the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital, which was shuttered in 2008.
South Side community groups have held news conferences and met with city officials, and Chicago Alderman Will Burns said the idea has been discussed in community planning meetings, although other options for the site — such as a technology park or an entertainment complex — are also being considered.
Another location that could be in the running is the former U.S. Steel South Works site, an area along Lake Michigan where visitors could look to the west and see the skyline of Chicago’s South Side.