West Side lawmakers gear up support for Obama library
Community rally slated for this month for NL-UIC bid
Elected officials from the West Side are gearing up to ensure that President Obama’s library lands in their community.
The lawmakers plan to host a public rally this month to spark community support. North Lawndale is among the four sites currently being considered by the Barack Obama Foundation, which will make a final decision next month. “This is bigger than one ward; this is something that will benefit the entire West Side and the suburban communities,” said 37th Ward Ald. Emma Mitts. The alderman said she and other West Side lawmakers met last week with members of the North Lawndale-UIC Presidential Library Committee about supporting the bid.
The 32 acres at Roosevelt Road and Kostner–extending north to West 5th Ave.–is among the sites under consideration. Bids from the University of Chicago on the South Side, as well as Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii are also in the running. Last month, Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced an ordinance to the Chicago City Council calling for park district land to be transferred to U of C for the proposed library and museum. The mayor has also stated that he supports the North Lawndale site but reportedly prefers the library on the South Side. City and national media have all but ignored the North Lawndale site as a “long shot.” But supporters of the West Side site said North Lawndale is an ideal location that doesn’t take away from park district land.
“A lot of people seem to be judging the Obama’s and how they will make their choice, based on money and prestige,” said Paul Norrington, a founding member of the NL-UIC Presidential Library Committee. “However, the Barack that I know, and came to know in 2008, would certainly not go for prestige and money. He would come to where he could make the most difference, and here in North Lawndale we have the opportunity for that.” The North Lawndale committee of more than a dozen members initially developed the bid before reaching out for a university partner, something the other bidders did not do, Norrington said.
Austin lawmakers, Mitts said, haven’t been heavily involved in the West Side bid up to this point because much of that work was focused in North Lawndale.
The community rally this month is slated for around President’s Day, she said. The alderman echoed sentiments that the library/museum will create jobs and spark economic development throughout the West Side. But Mitts, as well as Deborah Graham (29th) and Jason Ervin (28th) are also among the sponsors of the mayor’s ordinance. 27th Ward Ald. Walter Burnett also sponsored the mayor’s ordinance but has publicly stated that he supports the West Side site.
Mitts said that while she supports freeing up park district land for the library, that doesn’t mean that it should atomically go on the South Side.
Emanuel’s ordinance would transfer park district-owned land to the city in the event U of C is selected by the foundation. Washington or Jackson park on the South Side would be part of the deal. The nonprofit Chicago organization Friends of the Parks are among those opposing using park district land. Norrington noted that the North Lawndale site is already city owned and has sat vacant for years. Norrington stressed that the North Lawndale is currently open and ready to be developed.
“Friends of the Parks is saying that they would like University of Chicago to use the 11 acres that they already own across the street from the park,” Norrington said. “Here, we have 23 acres that’s shovel-ready. The mayor has already said that he is setting up a mechanism to for conveyance of this property to the Obama Foundation in case we are picked.”
At a recent 29th Ward aldermanic forum, Graham said she supports the North Lawndale side for the library, as did her opponents.
29th Ward candidate’s LaCoulton Walls, Oddis Johnson, Lawrence Andolino, Chris Taliaferro, Zerlina Smith, Bob Galhotra and Stephen Robinson all expressed support for the North Lawndale site during the Jan. 25, forum at Greater St. John Bible Church.