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Chicago hopes Obama's re-election will pay off

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CHICAGO – President Barack Obama may have been the biggest winner Tuesday, but for the next four years, at least, Chicago is going to be nobody's Second City.

With Obama's last election behind him, Chicago residents hope he can help his hometown more now that he no longer has to worry about any talk of his ties to "Chicago-style politics" and the images of the backroom deals that phrase evokes, or how what he does for the city plays in Ohio or Florida.

"This re-election ... doesn't take the lid off things, but for Chicago it allows the president to be less concerned about those nasty comparison or nasty innuendos that were out there [about Chicago-style politics] and basically allow him to continue to help us on a merit basis," said Alderman Patrick O'Connor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's floor leader on the City Council. "If he was reluctant to do things for us in the past because he thought people would say it was favoritism, now all other things being equal he can help us."

Obama has already shown that nobody can deliver to the city what he can, when he brought world leaders to Chicago for the NATO Summit. But he rarely visited Chicago during his first term and Illinois was among the last states to get Race to Top education funds.

With crumbling schools, a public transportation system that needs repairs and other major infrastructure needs, Mayor Rahm Emanuel will certainly push for federal dollars – something he all but promised the night of the election.

"As you know, I've advocated a great deal of investment in our roads, our bridges, our airports, our schools," the mayor said. "He's advocated for that same type of investment."

Emanuel and Obama have a close relationship, as seen throughout the campaign and on the night of Obama's victory speech before thousands of supporters in the city's convention center. Emanuel is not only one of Obama's fiercest supporters who played a crucial role in his re-election, but a mayor who has never been shy about picking up the phone and asking for help from the some of the most powerful leaders in the worlds of business and politics.

"These guys have a very good relationship that's the envy of any other mayor in the country," said Thom Serafin, a longtime Chicago political analyst.

Others in the White House also have ties to Chicago, including senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. And Washington talk is that she may soon become the third Chicago resident, following Emanuel and William Daley, the brother of former Mayor Richard Daley, to become Obama's chief of staff.

From a tourism standpoint, there may be no better advertising for a city than the sight of a handsome president and his beautiful wife enjoying its restaurants, lakefront and cultural attractions.

Now Obama, at least from the political standpoint, is free to visit as much as he wants. Gone are any concerns he might have had about what adversaries would do if he visited during, for example, the height of the former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's trial on corruption charges that included trying to sell Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. The trial is long over, with Blagojevich in a federal prison hundreds of miles away.

"Republicans made the argument about the Chicago machine, always talked about him [Obama] being part of a shady system and the White House may have said, 'Stay away and don't give them any more ammunition,'" said Princeton University historian Julian Zelizer said. "It's not like Republicans are going to use this in a campaign, because he's done."

That's good news for restaurateurs such as Art Smith.

Smith saw the wait for reservations jump from a week to a month after the Obamas visited his Chicago restaurant, Table Fifty-Two, for Valentine's Day in 2009

"When they came in, we were just reborn, it just blew out the door," said Smith. "Everybody wants to sit where they sat."

Among those who were most relieved that Obama was re-elected were the performers at The Second City, Chicago's iconic improvisational comedy theater, which after Obama's election introduced a show titled "Between Barack and a Hard Place.".

"People don't laugh about Mitt Romney, the jokes we made, they fell on deaf ears," said cast member Edgar Blackmon. "I don't think Mitt Romney as a comedic item is as fun to play with."

Obama's presidency is already starting to pay off for the city. David Axelrod, the senior strategist for the president's re-election campaign, is heading a new Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago. Besides having what Axelrod calls a "robust internship program," the institute will bring in high profile speakers.

"I have a pretty good Rolodex," joked Axelrod.

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