Making big promises to re-open a shuttered L stop and create a TIF to incubate small businesses in North Lawndale, Mayor Emanuel seemed squarely behind UIC's West Side bid for the Obama Presidential Library. What a difference a month makes. Just this week, Rahm pledged to "do as necessary, through my office and the office of the mayor, to move heaven and earth to make this happen," according to DNAinfo. He's backing up strong talk about how the library belongs here, but he seems a lot more concerned about the University of Chicago these days, having just introduced an ordinance to the City Council yesterday that would automatically trigger a land transfer from Jackson or Washington Park to the University in the event one of those sites are chosen. But why move heaven and Earth when, as many suggest, you just need to move to the West Side?
The proposed UIC sites may not be as sexy, but as many supporters argue, it's about as transformative as you can get, with the added symbolism of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived in the area in 1966 while campaigning for affordable housing.
"The Barack that most people voted for in 2008 wouldn't be seeking the prestige and elitism of the South Side, he would be looking for something exactly like this," Paul Norrington, a member of the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee, told DNAinfo.
North Lawndale also isn't as controversial as the South Side, at least as far as land rights go. While the mayor and many others have characterized last week's open hearings about the library as resolutely in favor of developing on parkland, there was debate about ceding parts of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks. The North Lawndale community seems united in support for developing on site of the old Sears' complex. If the mayor is serious about bringing the Obama Library to Chicago, there's no shame in helping the supposed frontrunner. But it seems two strongly supported bids have a better chance than one.