The decision to locate the Obama Presidential Library and Foundation in Chicago may not have always been a cinch. Today, one of the president's top advisors gave a glimpse into how the first couple came to choose the South Side.
Valerie Jarrett is not only a White House senior advisor, but she is known as the gatekeeper of the Obamas message and image. She said she was with the president on Tuesday and they watched the press conference announcing Chicago as the location online. That video -- released by the Obamas coinciding with the announcement-- talked about their emotional and political ties to Chicago. But she made it clear that the University of Chicago’s bid to bring the library and foundation home to the South Side was not a foregone conclusion until the city and the state stepped in.
“Chicago was always their favorite, Chicago is home,” Jarrett said. “It was always their sentimental favorite, but they had to go through the process to make sure it was feasible. In the end, it was really important to Rahm Emanuel to bring the library home. So, having City Council support was essential, and Gov. Rauner signing the bill that the Springfield legislature passed was important as well. That was the final step to prove to the president that it was feasible.”
The Obama Foundation will take 6-9 months to settle on a specific location, according to Foundation Chairman Martin Nesbitt. Jackson Park and Washington Park are the two park sites in play. Park preservationists had been disappointed that the foundation ultimately chose parkland as opposed to one of the myriad vacant lots around those sites. But Jarrett said it all comes down to mechanics at this point.
“I don’t think the president has a preferred location now, he’s interested in having Marty doing the feasibility analysis. There’s no point in falling in love with a site if it turns out there are reasons it’s not doable. So I think he’ll withhold his judgment until the process is complete,” she said.
There has been rampant speculation that, though the library may be located here, the Obamas will make New York their post-presidential home. It’s important to note that there was speculation that the library would be located here but his foundation, the crux of where he does his post presidential work, would also be in New York. But Tuesday’s announcement made clear that both the foundation and the library will be headquartered in the same space – so wherever the Obamas live, he will be working often out of Chicago. As for where the Obamas will actually be dwelling?
“Most of that speculation is coming from gossip columnists, it’s a long way off, he’s gotta finish his presidency. He’s focusing on that. Obviously, they’ll both spend a lot of time here as preparation for the library unfolds,” Jarrett said. “But it’s a little premature to decide issues like that. He’s trying to finish his presidency right now.”
Jarrett made her comments today before speaking in front of the group Women Employed about the importance of maternity leave and paid sick leave for working women.