WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama will hold off on announcing the location for his future presidential library until after Chicago’s runoff election for mayor, two people familiar with the decision said, in a bid to avoid politicizing his legacy project.
Last year the Barack Obama Foundation, which is screening proposals for the library, said the president and first lady Michelle Obama would announce the winner by the end of March. But with the Chicago race still up in the air, the announcement is no longer expected until after the April 7 runoff, said the individuals, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the library.
The foundation declined to comment, other than to say there were no updates on timing for the decision.
But the individuals with knowledge of the delay said that Obama and his foundation wanted to avoid injecting the library decision into the political fray – or to be seen as giving Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel an unfair advantage.
Emanuel, who served as Obama’s chief of staff during the president’s first term, didn’t win a majority of the vote in last month’s election, forcing a runoff next month with Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, the second-highest vote-getter. Emanuel has remained close to the president since leaving the White House, and Obama campaigned for him and cut radio ads backing Emanuel before last month’s vote.
The Obama library has emerged as an issue in the mayoral campaign in recent weeks. Both candidates are competing fiercely for black voters, who polls show strongly support bringing Obama’s library to his hometown of Chicago.
Emanuel has advocated aggressively on behalf of Chicago, where two universities are competing to host the project. After Obama’s foundation divulged concerns that the University of Chicago couldn’t assure access to the park land where it wants to build, Emanuel orchestrated a plan to have the Chicago Parks District board transfer 20 acres to the city for the library’s use.
His challenger, Garcia, initially opposed diverting park property for the library, prompting Emanuel’s campaign to accuse Garcia of jeopardizing Chicago’s bid for the library and the jobs and dollars that would come with it. Garcia later softened his position and said he would do anything in his power to bring the project to Chicago.
The University of Chicago has long been seen as the front-runner, and the foundation signaled its interest in the school’s South Side proposal last month by commissioning a poll of area residents. The University of Illinois at Chicago, a public school, is also competing, along with New York’s Columbia University and the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.