Unity breakfast supports two Chicago bids for Obama library

Obama Library Unity Breakfast

Mayor Rahm Emanuel talks with Susan Sher of the University of Chicago and UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis at Monday’s event. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

 

“We are one Chicago” was the theme of a March 16 unity breakfast to support both UIC’s and the University of Chicago’s bids for the Obama Presidential Library.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called for the gathering to demonstrate that — whichever bid is chosen — the library belongs in Chicago, where President Obama started his career in politics, rather than in New York.

Alfred Tatum, dean of the College of Education, set the tone when he told the audience of about 300 university, civic, religious and community leaders to put aside any rivalry between the South and West sides.

“Balkanization has no place in this city as we think about ways to preserve and extend the legacy of President Obama. We are one Chicago,” said Tatum, a member of UIC’s Obama Library proposal steering committee. “There has been a tone of balkanization, of UIC vs. U. of C., South Side versus West Side, and private versus public. As a city, we have to resist this. Our commitment is to the president and his post-presidency.”

UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis made the introduction before Emanuel spoke. He began by mentioning that this was one of his first tasks as chancellor on his first day on the job.

“If I understand Chicago politics correctly, if I mess this up, I’ll have the shortest tenure in the history of UIC,” he joked.

“As I considered coming to UIC, I was struck by the passion, dedication and commitment of the faculty and staff that work to provide our students a quality
education,” he continued. “We believe the presidential library is an essential, transformative institution for Chicago’s future, and we will work together to ensure its success at whatever site the Barack Obama Foundation chooses.

“The mayor has provided unwavering support to both bids and we appreciate the commitments he has made to ensure UIC and the University of Chicago submitted the strongest possible proposals.”

Derek Douglas, University of Chicago vice president for civic engagement, said, “Throughout this process, both UIC and the University of Chicago collaborated with community partners and provided opportunities for everyone from neighbors to elected officials, to civic and business leaders, to weigh in on the library and its role in our city.”

Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, spoke briefly of Obama’s trajectory from the Illinois Senate to the U.S. Senate, then the White House.

“We as a city are not done on that journey,” he said. “It can be on the South Side, it can be on the West Side, but it can’t be on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” Emanuel said of the presidential library, eliciting a round of applause.

“The reason New York wants it is, they see what we see. There is a reason all these communities have come together. This is a tremendous opportunity to say ‘yes’ on jobs and ‘yes’ on economic development. That is the catalyst we want to see in communities.”