Can Rahm Emanuel save Chicago's stumbling bid to be home to the Obama Presidential Library and Museum — and give his own re-election bid a boost in the process?
The mayor, a former chief of staff to the president, vowed Monday to play an "active role" in making sure that dueling proposals by the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois are "extremely competitive" when put up against a bid from Columbia University in New York.
"I want to make sure that, if there's any issues, that we resolve those so we're competitive against New York and this becomes an easy decision for the president to pick his hometown for where his presidential library, in my view, belongs," Emanuel said at a Monday news conference, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Emanuel's latest comments come on the heels of reports that issues with both Chicago site proposals could knock Obama's former home city out of the running for the library and museum — and just seven weeks before the mayor faces voters in his bid for another term. A victory in convincing his friend and former boss' foundation to choose Chicago — or at least keep the city in the running for the time being — could give Emanuel a boost in light of polls showing him falling just shy of the 50 percent support needed win outright on Feb. 24 and avoid a runoff election.
Sources close to the foundation, which has said it expects to announce a finalist in the coming months, recently told the Sun-Times that both Chicago proposals had problems and were in danger of missing out. Issues included the University of Chicago's plan to build the museum on land it doesn't actually own and uncertainty about the future leadership of University of Illinois, Chicago, the paper reported.
The new public push to restore hope for the Windy City includes dropping one site proposed by the University of Chicago amid concerns that hurdles to a controversial lakefront development at the South Shore Cultural Center would be too high and moving forward with an effort to get approval to build the museum on Chicago Park District land. Hearings on the potential transfer of land rights have been scheduled for next week, the Sun-Times reported.
But the path to getting the park land cleared for use could spark political backlash of its own for Emanuel. Friends of the Park, a group suing George Lucas' plan to build a museum of his own with public land involved, has panned the idea, citing "significant community opposition." Emanuel challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia has also come out against that route, according to the Sun-Times.
And any outcome that involves wooing the museum with the use of tax dollars could turn out to be a mixed bag for Emanuel. Less than half of voters surveyed in an August Chicago Tribune poll said they favored a plan that used public funds, though support was higher among black voters, a demographic that could prove crucial for Emanuel on Election Day.