Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Chicagoans Divided on Using Tax Money to Attract Obama Library

Michael Madigan's plan is as polarizing as his personality.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    As President Barack Obama's foundation reviews locations for his library and museum -- Chicago is the unofficial frontrunner. But voters in his adopted hometown are divided over whether to use taxpayer dollars to help the Windy City secure and build the future tourist trap.

    The Chicago Tribune polled Chicagoans on the issue and found reactions split nearly down the middle, with 47 supporting the idea, 45 percent against it and 8 percent undecided.

    The divide was greater among black poll-takers (61 percent of whom were in favor) and whites surveyed (60 percent were in opposition). Younger voters were more supportive than older voters. Men broke even, 48-48, and women supported the tax question, 47-43.

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    Earlier this year, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan -- arguably the most powerful and polarizing Democrat in Springfield -- took tons of heat for pushing controversial legislation that would earmark $100 million in tax money as a down payment to win the much-coveted presidential prize for Chicago. Madigan had the backing of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's eager to out-bid rivals Hawaii and New York and add another hotspot to the city's booming museum complex.

    Madigan's measure remains in limbo after getting slimed by political enemies, media watchdogs and Illinoisians questioning the judgment of the cash-strapped state spending precious millions on the library.

    In a recent plea to the president, Greg Hinz at Crain's Chicago Business wrote: "Pay for it yourself, sir. Get the money from your buddies and donors and supporters. Don't ask the taxpayers of the city and state to come up with what, at the moment, is at least $100 million. We can't afford it."

    Madigan argued that Illinois helped pay for Springfield's Lincoln Library, so why not contribute to Obama's legacy building? It appears, however, that Obama's newly minted foundation -- which is scouting host cities -- won't be hurting in the finance department, having already banked $1.7 million from deep-pocketed donors in an early round of fundraising. Among the contributors: Chicago investor Michael Sacks and his wife, Cari, who offered between $250,001 and $500,000 (the precise amount wasn't disclosed).

    Sacks is the CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, a funder of hedge funds based here, as well as a veteran Obama campaign bundler and Emanuel confidante.

    The library search committee, headed up by Obama pal Marty Nesbitt, aims to settle on a location in early 2015. The Obamas won't start actively raising money for it until a year later, when the First Family leaves the White House.