A map of proposed U of C library sites.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s robust attempt to grease the path to an Obama Presidential Library on the city’s South Side got several shoves from West Side aldermen Jason Ervin (28th), Deborah Graham (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) yesterday.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21, the Mayor introduced an ordinance that would transfer land currently owned by the Chicago Park District to the City of Chicago in the event that the University of Chicago wins the competition to build the library of the nation’s first African American president.

In addition to the Mayor himself, the ordinance has more than three dozen sponsors, including the three aforementioned West Side aldermen. So, the likelihood that it will pass is extremely strong.

According to a Chicago Tribune report published Wednesday, Jan. 21, “Emanuel’s ordinance has two provisions aimed at brokering an accord for the rights to about 20 acres in Jackson or WashingtonPark for a library, museum and probably an academic institute.

“The measure says it is ‘expected that the foundation would use about 5 acres for the ‘presidential center’ with the rest of the land to ‘remain landscaped open space,'” the Tribune reports. Under Emanuel’s proposal, the park sites would be conveyed to the city for $1.

The move by Emanuel comes several weeks after the Obama Foundation expressed open disappointment with U of C’s bid and betraying some trepidation over the fact that the university did not own the land on which it was proposing to build.

At the time that this glitch in the U of C’s plans was announced, some supporters of another finalist – the 23 empty acres sitting in North Lawndale proposed by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and community activists in that area – took this as a glimmer of hope; perhaps an opportunity for the foundation to reconsider the North Lawndale-UIC proposal as the true realization of its commitments to equity and democracy.

“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,” said Paul Norrington, a member of the North Lawndale Presidential Library Committee, whose comments to DNAinfo were cited in a Jan. 22, article in Curbed Chicago entitled, “Rahm’s Library Hustle Seems to Have Forgotten North Lawndale.”

With the impending passage of this ordinance, North Lawndale’s window of opportunity seems to have narrowed considerably.

The foundation is expected to pick a winner from the four finalists bidding for the library by the end of March. 

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