CHICAGO – The competition to host President Barack Obama’s presidential library intensified Sunday as the University of Illinois at Chicago announced its official bid and revealed a team of specialists to boost the school’s campaign.
Even though Obama hasn’t publicly discussed his plans, officials with several Chicago sites – the University of Chicago, Chicago State University and the Bronzeville neighborhood – have stepped forward, hoping to be chosen. Obama’s birthplace of Hawaii has also expressed interest, but the speculation in Chicago has sparked debates about how to best preserve the 44th president’s legacy and his place in the city’s history.
“We are in and of Chicago,” UIC chancellor Paula Allen-Meares said in a statement emailed Sunday. She listed school achievements, connections to federal policies, research facilities and the diverse population at the 27,500-student university not far from downtown. “The focus of our research and public service echoes President Obama’s signature achievements.”
A group at the university – which has previously mentioned interest – would advance the bid by considering architecture and academic programming, among other things, Allen-Meares said. The school’s interest, which appeared in a Saturday statement on the school’s website, was recommended by a task force of deans, outside advisers and administrators. The university, which holds personal papers of several Chicago mayors, has picked about half a dozen potential sites on the sprawling campus, said UIC spokesman Bill Burton. He added that the university’s access to public transportation would make it easier for visitors.
Still, Obama doesn’t have any formal connections to UIC.
Obama has the strongest links to the University of Chicago and officials have met with archivists at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas. The university is where Obama once taught law, first lady Michelle Obama held leadership positions and former White House adviser David Axelrod has set up his Institute of Politics. Vice President Joe Biden was set to speak to students Monday through the institute.
Some activists hope the nation’s first black president who started his political career in Chicago considers the city’s rich African American history. That includes looking at the largely-black Chicago State University, which has close ties to prominent politicians and writers. A Chicago alderman and former state senator have formed an exploratory committee.
Others are pushing for the for the city’s historically black Bronzeville neighborhood, where a number of artists and pioneers worked or lived.
Timuel Black Jr., a civil rights activist and retired professor, said choosing Bronzeville could help revitalize the city’s South Side. He said it’d also be important for the history of the city, where a Haitian-born immigrant was the first settler. Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable became known as “the father of Chicago” and his name graces several landmarks.
“It would really glamorize, as well as educate that Chicago, as we know it, was from DuSable to Obama,” Black said.