The South Side’s rebellion against its one-time savior – former President Barack Obama – continues! A local Chicago not-for-profit organization has filed a lawsuit against the building of the Obama presidential library that is currently slated to be built on public parkland. The group argues that there is vacant property across the street for purchase or long-term lease that would allow the public park to be left alone and still allow the completion of the presidential library.
Many local Chicagoans wonder just why city leaders would choose to do that? Some speculate that perhaps Obama who has always tried to protect himself from the black community he considers himself to be above decided he did not want his library near a park where people he considers to be the wrong element will gather, thus creating a blight on his monument to himself. The plan was for the park commission to sell the land to Chicago for a nominal price and then lease it to the library under a long-term lease.
Historians of all stripes should read this important article by Bob Clark about NARA's decision not to administer a Barack Obama Presidential Library. The consequences for historians and for American democracy are serious. #SHAFR #twitterstorians https://t.co/jicXDsGIMW pic.twitter.com/9v7S9AKH13
— Barbara Keys (@arakeys) May 20, 2018
The Obama Foundation submitted its development plans and applications for the former president’s library earlier this year. Crews are expected to break ground on the center later this year. The center is expected to open in 2021.
The Chicago Tribune reports Protect Our Parks Inc. filed the suit in U.S. District Court on Monday, alleging that Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago lack the power to move government-owned parkland to a nongovernmental organization, in this case, the Obama Foundation. The lawsuit uses three Chicago residents as plaintiffs in the case and alleges that the move illustrates “a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”
The nonprofit also said the organizers of the center pulled an “institutional bait and switch” by keeping the purpose of the center from being a “true presidential library.”
The complaint reads – “The City and Park District clearly realize and fully understand that this established law precludes the Park District from arbitrarily transferring possession, use and control of this dedicated ‘open, clear and free’ public parkland in Jackson Park to a private nongovernmental … the entity’s self-determined use.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel immediately leaped to his former boss’s defense. In a statement released by the city, Chicago hailed the center as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side.”
The city now accuses the plaintiffs of trying to stop economic progress on Chicago’s south side – “The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side, bring our communities together and honor the legacy of Chicago’s favorite son and daughter. While some choose to stand in the way of progress for the South Side, we are focused on making progress in every community in Chicago.”
Is the Barack Obama Presidential Library design plan a smoke screen for a server farm collecting information to be controlled by Obama Foundation and associated donors https://t.co/JHtNWaKmh2? Asking for the residents of Illinois…
— @Jeffrey_Hargarten (@Jeffrey_Hargart) May 22, 2018
Critics of the project argue that the project is not a true presidential library, as it will only have a digital archive of Obama’s presidential papers and not the documents themselves. The 12-story monument to Obama’s ego will also include a community forum center, an outdoor plaza, and a community athletic center. However, the south side of Chicago with its more blue-collar, middle to low-income residents see this “library” as a means to take away much-needed resources for urban youth. Many speculate would the urban youth and other residents use the presidential library than they would the park? I doubt it.
The city and the Obama family have insisted that the project will not harm the neighborhood because it will create jobs for local residents. However, opponents of the project have argued that the city should grant residents who own homes in the neighborhood a tax freeze because the center’s mere existence would likely drive a wave of gentrification and the attendant rise in property values.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports of the issues with the city ordinances that must now be rewritten in order to accommodate the Obama’s monument to themselves, stating – :The City Council in March 2015 approved an ordinance for Chicago Park District land in Jackson Park to be transferred to the City of Chicago to lease to the Obama Foundation.
But a rewrite of that ordinance is now necessary.
The Jackson Park boundaries for the center spelled out in that 2015 legislation have changed, with the project moved further north and east. For the project to go forward, the plan commission and City Council must approve those new boundaries.
All these matters dovetail into the federal lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks, Inc., with parks activist Charlotte Adelman among the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit seeks a court order to “bar the Park District and the City from approving the building of the Presidential Center and from conveying any interest in or control of the Jackson Park site to the Foundation.”
Among the reasons cited in the lawsuit to support the request for a court order:
- An “institutional bait and switch.” The original purpose of the transfer of public park land to the Foundation – a private non-government entity – was to house an official federal Obama Federal Library. However, that purpose no longer exists. Obama decided his center will not include his official presidential library. The federal National Records and Archives Administration will run it from someplace else.
- Transfer of park land to a non-governmental private entity violates the park district code.
- The park district and the city will receive only token rent for the land and the Park District Act law “does not authorize the Park District itself to transfer valuable public trust land for virtually no compensatory return.”
- Public park land is “prohibited by law” from being turned over to a non-governmental private entity for private use.
The law firm for the plaintiff is Roth Fioretti. Partner Robert Fioretti is a former Chicago alderman who challenged Mayor Rahm Emanuel in 2015 before endorsing Emanuel in the runoff. More recently, Fioretti was defeated in a March Democratic primary bid for Cook County Board president.”
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