Chicago City Council passes Obama library ordinance

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Posted: Mar 18, 2015 6:04 PM
Chicago City Council passes Obama library ordinance

CHICAGO (AP) — With President Barack Obama saying he wants to build his library in Chicago but that "some entanglements" might stand in the way, the City Council voted to do away with the only entanglement many said they knew about — voting to give the city control of two pieces of park land so it can be used for the library if the president wants it.

Approval of the ordinance proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel was widely expected. But the 47-0 vote came after aldermen implored each other to vote in favor of the measure to transfer 20 acres of land at either Jackson Park or Washington Park — crucial to the bid by the University of Chicago — as a way to send a clear message to the White House that the city firmly supports bringing the library to the president's hometown.

"The road to the White House began in Chicago," said Alderman Pat Dowell.

The vote came after the Chicago Tribune reported that the president said over the weekend that he wanted his library in Chicago. While Obama didn't detail what "entanglements" he referred to, his comments followed concerns raised by the Barack Obama Foundation, which is screening proposals, about the University of Chicago's inability to assure access to land where it wants to build the library in either park near campus.

"That was the only entanglement we had," said the mayor. "That issue has been addressed."

The vote also came at the right time for the mayor — days before the April 7 runoff election against Cook County Commissioner Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia. Emanuel was dealt what was widely seen as a political blow when it was reported that the Obamas would delay a decision until after the election.

But Wednesday's vote came as the mayor is trying to court black voters, many of whom support building the library on the city's South Side or the University of Illinois at Chicago's bid to build it on the West Side, in large part because the library would be an economic boon to distressed communities.

The foundation, in a statement, called the vote "an encouraging step for the University of Chicago proposal."

Emanuel has implied that if he loses to Garcia it could jeopardize the bids by the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago and offer an advantage to bids from the University of Hawaii or Columbia University in New York. He did so again on Wednesday.

"My position has been clear, clear since day one (and) that's not true of my opponent," he told reporters. "As someone who recruits companies on a regular basis to either expand or relocate to the city of Chicago ... when people make a major decision they want something steady they can hang their hat on and I have been clear about my position as it relates to the presidential library and locating it in the city of Chicago."

Garcia said in a statement that while he doesn't believe the library should come "at the expense of public park land," he supports both Chicago proposals.

"I have never wavered in my full support of bringing the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago," he said.

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Associated Press writer Josh Lederman in Washington, D.C. contributed to this report.