Mad Dash to Land Home for Obama’s Presidential Library

Mar 20, 2014 4:47pm
GTY chicago hawaii kab 140320 16x9 608 Mad Dash to Land Home for Obamas Presidential Library

(Henryk Sadura, Robyn Beck/Getty Images)

The search for the home of President Obama’s legacy has officially begun.

Today, the Barack Obama Foundation announced it will start fielding preliminary information from potential cities that will bid to host Obama’s presidential library.

Among the cities known to be competing in the bidding process that the Foundation has pledged will be “open and accessible,” are Chicago, Honolulu and New York City.

The “request for qualifications” is just the first step in a process that will take over a year to complete.

Initially, the foundation is seeking logistical, financial and organizational details from prospective bidders, which should include information about access to transportation and community information that would make their site suitable for the library.

“Our goal is to build a library of which the whole country, and hopefully the whole world, can be proud,” said Marty Nesbitt, a member of the foundation board and a close friend of Obama’s. “Our vision is to create a space that reflects President Obama’s values and priorities throughout his career in public service and serves as force for good in the surrounding community and throughout our world.”

Obama has entrusted Nesbitt, Chicago businessman Kevin Poorman, and Obama campaign veteran Julianna Smoot to lead the process.

Qualifying information is due by July 16 and in the summer the committee will request official proposals from the most competitive applicants. In the meantime, potential hosts are doing what they can to woo the decision makers, the most important of which is the president himself.

Here are four things you need to know about the jousting for rights to Obama’s presidential library.

1)     Bids will come from far and wide 

Chicago is believed to have the strongest chance of winning out–both the president and the first lady have strong ties to the city. But the city isn’t taking any chances, and it may have some difficulty whittling down their own crowded field of potential host sites.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was Obama’s former chief of staff, has made it clear that he doesn’t want the city’s educational institutions fighting amongst themselves for the presidential library.

“We are going to run a process. But my goal is to have the City of Chicago, with its major educational institutions, have a single proposal,” Emanuel told the Chicago Sun Times Lynn Sweet in January.

The University of Chicago, the University of Illinois Chicago, and Chicago State University have all expressed interest in submitting their own bids.

The competition is also steep among non-Chicago bidders.

Columbia University in New York, where Obama attended college, has acknowledged that they may be pursuing a bid.

The accessible metropolitan area and potential fundraising heft that the school could bring to the bid means that they will be a strong competitor.

But there’s also sunny Hawaii, which has perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing pitch.

The state boasts proudly of being President Obama’s childhood home and has already set aside some prime oceanfront property that could house a presidential facility.

2)     Things are heating up

Lobbying has been going on for years now, but when Obama’s aides tasked with planning for his post-presidency plans launched the foundation organization in January, the jousting began in earnest.

Just this week, a longtime and trusted aide Alyssa Mastromonaco announced that she would leave her post at the White House and she is expected to take play a prominent role in planning for the library and foundation.

Bids will be formally accepted in May and the decision is expected by early 2015, according to the Barack H. Obama Foundation.

3)     Could Obama spread the love?

Obama could decide to house his presidential library in one city, but spread out the love by pursuing his post-presidency activities via a foundation in another location and even constructing a presidential museum in another.

It’s a model President Bill Clinton followed when he located his library in Little Rock, Ark., but chose to operate his multi-national foundation from New York City.

4)     Money Talks

Earlier this month, Illinois dropped a not-so-subtle $100 million hint that it wants to draw Obama back to Chicago.

Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party Chair Michael Madigan announced a bill that would devote $100 million in state funding toward an Obama library project.

The proposal comes, to say the least, a little early, but it is intended to send a clear signal that the state wants to add taxpayer funds to the equation when it comes to funding the library.

After all, the library and foundation activities are reliant on private funds and state and local development partnerships.

Cities with Obama loyalists with deep pockets could find themselves at a distinct advantage.

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