UIC, U. of C. Celebrate Unity in Obama Library Bids.
The Library NEWS | After more than a year of tough competition, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago came together Monday in a show of unity, hosting a community breakfast designed to send a strong message to Barack Obama that the city wants his library regardless of whether it’s on the South Side or the West Side.
It is the message that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has wanted to send to the White House from the beginning, when early on in the selection process he advocated for a joint bid from the city of Chicago. The universities, however, decided to move ahead with separate bids that left some divided on where it should be built.
The U. of C. has proposed building the library and museum in either Washington Park or Jackson Park on the South Side. UIC wants to build it in North Lawndale on the West Side.
Now facing a tough re-election campaign, the mayor worked behind the scenes to bring the two competitors together for a unity breakfast just weeks before the Barack Obama Foundation announces whether the library will be awarded to Chicago, Honolulu or New York. The foundation recently said it would delay the announcement until after the April 7 runoff election in Chicago.
The breakfast drew more than 300 people from the West and South sides, some arriving at the downtown hotel by the busload. Guests included elected officials, ministers and community members.
In his strongest statement yet, Emanuel vowed to “move heaven and earth” to make sure the library lands in Chicago
“It can be on the South Side. It can be on the West Side. But it cannot be on the Upper West Side of Manhattan,” Emanuel said to loud applause. “I do not know where you are going to find another multi-hundred-million dollar opportunity for either the South Side or West Side of Chicago, with thousands and thousands of jobs that are dependent on it.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city of Chicago, and we ain’t messing it up.”
The lighthearted event, which included brief speeches laced with humor and music by gospel choirs, at times seemed like a pep rally. Though the U. of C. is considered the front-runner, it is facing heavy competition from New York’s Columbia University, which wants to build the library and museum in West Harlem in Upper Manhattan. The fourth contender is the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
On his first day on the job, UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis introduced the mayor and congratulated former UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares and U. of C. President Robert Zimmer for leading the charge to get Chicago to the final round of competition. Allen-Meares was seated at the head table. Zimmer is traveling and did not attend the event.
“We believe the library is an essential, transformational institution for Chicago’s future, no matter which site is chosen,” Amiridis said. “I cannot think of any place this library should or could be other than the city of Chicago.”
Amiridis, who is joining the library effort toward the end of the competition, told the Tribune in an interview before the breakfast that he has kept abreast of the developments and plans to meet in the next few days with members of the Obama foundation.
He said he would again assert UIC’s strong case for winning the library, focusing on the university’s social legacy and values that are in line with the president’s.
In his brief remarks, Emanuel talked about Obama’s long relationship with Chicago.
“His journey from here in Chicago to the state Senate … then to the United States Senate … and then to the White House … and we as a city are not done on that journey,” Emanuel said. “It is essential for the city of Chicago to secure this library. The reason New York wants it is they see what we see.
“There is a reason all these communities have come together. This is a tremendous opportunity to say yes on jobs and yes on economic development,” the mayor said. “There are already people buying real estate and housing on the expectation. That is the catalyst we want to see in communities.”