The Obama Center Can Afford More Than $1 RentRoundup
tags: presidential libraries, Obama, Obamas Library
When Barack Obama announced he would forgo a presidential library, the news was trumpeted as a win for good government. Instead, Mr. Obama would open an official center on Chicago’s South Side, funded entirely with private money. One author at Politico, who called presidential libraries a “scam,” wrote that Mr. Obama “will rip off the band-aid, removing government from what it has no business paying for.”
Now comes news that Illinois taxpayers will put up at least $174 million for roadway and transit reconfigurations needed to accommodate the Obama Center. If you don’t live in Illinois, you may be smirking—but you’ll be footing the bill, too. Eighty percent of such spending is generally reimbursed by the federal government, and Illinois officials confirmed to me that they expect to receive $139 million from Washington if they request it.All that taxpayer money—and for what? Originally, Chicagoans imagined they’d be getting a true presidential library, akin to those they might have visited for Ronald Reagan in California or John F. Kennedy in Boston. But unlike those libraries, the Obama Center won’t be run by the National Archives and Records Administration. It won’t even house Mr. Obama’s records, artifacts and papers, which will be digitized and available online. Instead the center will be owned and operated by the Obama Foundation.This wasn’t always the plan. In a 2014 request for proposal, the Obama Foundation said that the planned presidential library “will include an Institute that will enhance the pursuit of the President’s initiatives beyond 2017.” This institute now seems to have taken over the project. As the Chicago Tribunereported in February: “Obama said he envisions his center as a place where young people from around the world can meet each other, get training and prepare to become the next generation of leaders.” No doubt, his definition of “leaders” will be political.Which raises the question of why the state and city are giving the Obama Center official support. Back when it was still being sold as an official presidential library, the city of Chicago took steps to allow the project to be built in Jackson Park. Under a deal approved by the City Council in May, the Obama Foundation will lease19.3 acres in perpetuity for $1. A nonprofit group called Protect our Parks has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that this violates state law. The suit calls the Obama Center a “bait and switch,” since the “public purpose” of a presidential library no longer exists. ...