President Obama, ending a trio of fundraisers in Chicago on Thursday night, asked supporters to be excited for the future while resurrecting the campaign mantra that helped get him elected more than two years ago.
"Whenever you hear people say our problems are too big to solve, or we can't bring about the changes we seek, I want you to think about all the progress we've made. I want you to think about all the unfinished business that lies ahead. I want you to be excited about the future that lies before us. And I want you to remind you, and I want you to remind everybody else of those simple words that summed up what we believe as a people: Yes We Can," he said to raucus applause at Navy Pier before donning a Chicago Bulls cap and returning to the microphone for one final statement:
"Go Bulls!" he shouted.
One of Chicago's biggest sports heroes, Bulls star Derrick Rose, was among the headliners of the event which also included a performance by Colbie Caillat and an introduction by Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel.
"We're kind of sad that Obama is doing everything right now because we need a starting two-guard for the Playoffs, but we'll have to deal with it," said Rose.
Emanuel said Obama has been an "incredible president for this country" and has "taken it from the steps of the recession to the doorstep of a recovery."
The visit to Chicago officially kicks off Obama's 2012 campaign, and the three events Thursday were expected to bring in about $2 million for the campaign.
About 50 people attended an earlier event at MK Restaurant, where Obama spoke for about 10 minutes.
"Michelle and I used to come here on dates, but now we have all these reporters who come with on dates," he joked.
He described the recent spending debate as "just an appetizer" ahead of what is now a much bigger argument over fiscal policy.
Referring to the speech he delived Wednesday, he said it "wasn't a critique. That was a description."
"The speech I gave yesterday was not a partisan shot at the other side. It was an attempt to clarify the choice we have as a country right now," he said. "if we’re progressive, we’ve got to care about the deficit as much as the other side does."
The guests at MK shelled out $35,000 to dine with Obama. Scallops flown in from the East Coast were on the menu.
"It's the president's favorite dish when he dines here," said Chef Michael Kornick, a huge supporter who has attended almost every major Obama event.
The president's first stop of the night was at N9NE Steakhouse, at 440 W. Randolph St., where donors plunked down between $5,000 and $10,000 a plate.
"It's good to be home," he told about 150 donors.
Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who flew in with the president on Air Force One, and outgoing Mayor Richard M. Daley both followed Obama into the restaurant.
When Obama walked in, Mayor Daley was talking to Emanuel.
“I got a little confused,” Obama said. "I walk in, two guys talking, both of them very animated, both of them a little intimidating even though they’re not tall in stature. I was trying to figure out who I should bow to first. I decided to go with the current mayor.”
Obama also gave shout-outs to Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who were among the diners/donors.
Obama also shouted to Daley, "Bill’s doing OK, Rich."
Emanuel introduced Obama, praising the job he has done in his first few years, saying the economy is now "helping people buy homes, buy cars send their kids to college. We are back on the move rather than being on our back."
Obama returned the praise to Emanuel, saying, "Yes, he is foul-mouthed. Yes, that finger thing is a little creepy. But I love him anyway. And Chicago, you did the right thing by electing him the next mayor of Chicago."
Obama said of Daley, "He is somebody who has done more not just to make Chicago a great American city but a great world city. His legacy is going to be as deep and lasting as his father’s was."
The presidential plane flew into O'Hare International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. Downtown drivers were warned to expect roving street closures and extra security as Obama travels, OEMC spokesman Roderick Drew said.
N9NE is located near the Wacker Drive construction, which made the Canal and Randolph area even busier than normal.
"I'm getting out of here," said Mike Finn, who works near the restaurant.
The president's last visit home was in October, meaning he'll return to his old Chicago house for the first time in months.
Barricades and security were in place Thursday morning around Obama's residential street and Hyde Park home, where he plans to spend the night.
Those living in the Hyde Park area also should expect the same roving street closures and extra security, Drew said.
But this isn't anything new for the president's old neighborhood.
"People are used to it here," said resident Perry Prior.
Obama flies out of O'Hare Friday morning to return to Washington, D.C., but he'll be back soon enough.
The president and the First Lady return to Chicago on April 27 to tape a May 2 segment for "The Oprah Winfrey Show." It's unclear exactly what the segment will entail.