By: Mark Glennon*
Despite all the local and national stories about the controversial Obama Center to be built on Chicago’s Southside, nobody realized federal taxpayers will be reimbursing Illinois for 80% of the roughly $200 million the state appropriated for it. So, that’s what I emphasized in my Wall Street Journal article last week. Reactions were interesting, mostly expressing anger over Obama’s hubris and the arrogance of Chicago Machine power behind its construction, but first some background and new developments.
The Center will not be a presidential library, as initially described. It will be run by the Obama Foundation and has a partisan political purpose — to “enhance the pursuit of [President Obama’s] initiatives beyond 2017,” As stated in he Original Request for Proposals.
Nor will the center be entirely funded with private money, as initially promised. Aside from federal and state money, the center may be supported by a property tax levy, which is detailed in the federal lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks, a nonprofit organization. Finally, the center will be located on parkland leased to the Obama Foundation in perpetuity for $1.
It’s that giveaway of parkland that seems most annoying to the folks behind the lawsuit. From the legal complaint, it certainly appears state law was trampled on in a number of ways to get the parkland transferred. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the lawsuit “frivolous,” and the city initially obtained a stay, allowing them to avoid even answering the suit.
On Tuesday, however, the federal judge lifted that stay, requiring the city to answer the complaint by October 22 and letting the plaintiffs proceed with discovery.
The judge did not, however, stop the city from removing trees and digging up baseball diamonds on land adjacent to the proposed Obama Center site. The baseball land will be used to replace a track and field facility displaced by the Obama complex. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit claimed that work violated an agreement to defer construction but the city claimed it was a separate matter, and began the work, as reported by the Chicago Sun-Times.
An architectural publication called that “Rahm’s Meigs Moment” — a reference to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s pre-dawn, surprise raid to tear down Meigs Field in 2003.
The Obama Foundation also release its annual financial report showing that it raised a record amount in 2017, $232.6 million. “It’s the biggest single year haul since the foundation was founded in January, 2014, when former President Barack Obama was still in the White House,” said the Chicago Sun-Times. Clearly, Obama could raise the money for his center privately if he tried.
Comments posted on the Wall Street Journal article (over 400 of them) are overwhelmingly opposed to the center and taxpayer funding for it. (One of my favorites was simply, “He didn’t build it.”) Emails I’ve received are likewise opposed.
It’s an interesting coalition of opposition.
Many opponents are conservationists upset over misuse of land in Jackson Park. You may think you’re not familiar with the park, but you’ve seen it if you’ve ever visited the Museum of Science and Industry. The park is directly south of the museum and the site for the center is on the western edge. It’s truly one of the finest urban parks in the nation if not the world.
Other opponents are focused on the clear misuse of taxpayer money. The center will be a political training camp — the Obama Foundation’s center of operations. Foundation operations and construction expenses are in fact indistinguishable because money is fungible.
Personally, I think the First Amendment issue is key. It’s one of the causes of action in the pending federal lawsuit. Taxpayer money used for partisan political purposes violates the “compelled speech” doctrine of the First Amendment. It shouldn’t matter whether you like Obama or not.
Interestingly, from the comments, graduates of the University of Chicago, which is next door, seem particularly incensed about the center. At least two of the people behind the lawsuit are U of C grads. A large group of faculty and other current members of the university community earlier voiced strong objections.
Many are upset that the university has failed in what they see as its de facto role as guardian of the architectural standards in the area and the values U of C has traditionally stood for.
Many are queasy about the close relationship between the university, Obama and the foundation, which is indeed murky. Perhaps discovery in the lawsuit will shed more light on that.
One U of C grad, M.H. Deal, emailed me saying the following:
The University of Chicago has always held itself out as an honorable institution with an historic, intimate relationship to its surroundings: Washington Park, the Midway, and Jackson Park. How naïve we all were to believe this! Alumni/ae and friends of UC should ‘unfriend’ it immediately. Put your critical thinking skills to good use. Demand full disclosure of UC’s hidden part in the Obama Foundation’s scheme to destroy Jackson Park. Withhold contributions until the ‘powers-that-be’ – Zimmer, Boyer, the board, etc. – fess up and vow to sin no more.
The bottom line is pretty simple. The center should not be in Jackson Park and taxpayers shouldn’t be contributing a dime.
UPDATE 8/18/18: Herb Caplan, one of the individuals behind the lawsuit, today distributed this email, which is a good summary of the opposition’s viewpoint:
Now more than ever we have to educate and raise public awareness that (1) The Obama Center in ” JACKSON PARK HISTORIC LANDSCAPE DISTRICT AND MIDWAY PLAISANCE”, as it is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is not and will never be a Presidential Library as originally advertised; (2) The Obama Center has become little more than a political clubhouse for pursuing Obama politics; (3) It will be maintained at public expense; (4) It will not create the fictional carrot of good paying jobs for the needy residents of nearby south side neighborhoods; (5) It has instead already attracted insider greedy land speculators that are only causing real estate prices to escalate and residential rents to double, driving out from their homes the very people Obama claimed he would be helping; (6) It is not discussed that it will actually be an extension of UChicago’s 1950’s Urban Renewal that transformed Hyde Park into the University image, and conversely helped advanced the corrupt block busting that devastated the previously stable south shore neighborhoods surrounding Jackson Park;. (7) The Obama Center as presently designed is just a corrupt public park land theft for private use, and another con game being played on the poor unsuspecting supporters of the project.
There are a number of deep hidden agendas that resulted in promotion of an Obama Center in Jackson Park, truths that media has to date failed to uncover. In the progress of the POP lawsuit POP plans to be leading the excavation.
*Mark Glennon is founder and executive editor of Wirepoints.
For further background, see our earlier stories linked below.
Surprise: All U.S. Taxpayers, Not Just Illinoisans, Will Cover Most Of The Public Funding For Obama Center Fiasco In Chicago – Wirepoints Original