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Chicago Ups the Ante for Obama Presidential Library, Makes Play for Lucas Museum

Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago, is working with Representative Michael Madigan, Speaker of the (Illinois) House of Representatives and Chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, to secure $100,000,000 in state funding for the construction of the future Barack H. Obama Presidential Library. Emanuel has also formed a committee to consider possible sites for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum, which George Lucas had wanted to establish in San Francisco, but may end up establishing in Chicago, because officials there have not offered him the site he desired and he lives here part-time now.

On Tuesday, March 4, 2014, Madigan and Representative Monique D. Davis co-sponsored HB6010, a bill to appropriate $100,000,000 from the Capital Development Fund[1] for the construction of the Barack Obama Presidential Library & Museum. The bill had its first reading that day.

On Wednesday, March 5, 20154, Reps. La Shawn K. Ford, Barbara Flynn Currie, Christian L. Mitchell, Mary E. Flowers, and Robert Rita,– all Democrats – became co-sponsors. On Thursday, March 13, 2014, the House assigned the bill to the Executive Committee.

"We’re just being proactive in making sure there’s some dollars available to start the process of getting that library here in the state of Illinois," Rep. Davis told Chicago Sun-Times reporter Dave McKinney. "This, obviously, will show people we’re interested."
"Obviously, we're proud to have the president be from Illinois," Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, told McKinney. "But it's premature to talk about issuing $100 million in bonds to help build his library, particularly with the financial condition of the state -- although I suppose they could take the $100 million from the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative."[2]

On Wednesday, April 16, 2014, Rep. Charles E. Jefferson, also a Democrat, became yet another co-sponsor. Coincidentally, the next day, the House Executive Committee voted in favor of appropriating $100,000,000 in bonds to help fund construction of the Obama Presidential Library after Madigan and Emanuel testified before the committee. Republicans cried foul because the meeting, which took place in Chicago, was supposed to entail discussion only, not voting, and none of the Republican committee members were in attendance.

On Monday, April 21, 23014, a Chicago Tribune editorial ridiculed the proposal. “Illinois taxpayers could be on the hook for $100 million, plus interest, for a presidential library in Chicago.”

No sweat. Illinois is rolling in cash. Lawmakers devoted $50 million to renovating the Capitol last year, including $669,608 for copper doors, $323,000 for chandeliers and $150,000 for fancy light fixtures.

Never mind that this state is so broke, it took dental care away from poor people. Or that Illinois faces billions in unpaid bills. Springfield lawmakers will always find money to build stuff. The answer for more spending is, Yes! Where do we sign?

An editorial in the Herald-Review on Tuesday, April 22, 2014 argued, “Hopefully, Democrats in the House and Senate will make clear that the state simply doesn't have… $100 million for a potential presidential library. It's incomprehensible a state that is behind on its bills, still has a potential pension problem… and is forecasting doom and gloom if the temporary income tax rates aren't made permanent, would commit $100 million to this cause. Well, it's incomprehensible unless you're talking about Illinois.”

The state should make clear that it would be proud to host the Obama Library, but that the funds to build and maintain it will have to come from private funds.

That is an editorial perspective from Decatur in central Illinois.

In an editor’s roundtable on Sunday, April 27, 2014, Editor Tom Martin wrote in The Register Mail, “Having the library in Illinois will be good for the state, and I have no doubt that $100 million would sweeten the deal, but the last three presidential libraries were built with private funding. And that’s because the law requires it. Besides, the Presidential Libraries Act of 1955 establishes “a system of privately erected and federally maintained” presidential libraries.”

Reflecting the geographic place of Galesburg in Western Illinois, Assistant Editor Jay Redfern wrote, “President Obama is the one who decides where his library will go, and experts say he will have no trouble raising the library’s $500 million estimated cost through private sources. If Chicago feels it needs to bribe the president to secure the library, let the citizens of Chicago pick up the tab.”

Local News Editor Rob Buck “While I’d like to see the Obama presidential library land in Illinois, I’d rather see it in Galesburg. Seriously. And I would really like to see Galesburg first receive $15 million to build its own new library.”

And yet, we’re broke. We being the state of Illinois. We’re not only broke, we’re neck deep in debt. Should the state be doling out $100 million for a non-essential project? Why can’t the Obama grassroots gang that raised multi-millions for his election to the Oval Office scrape together another round of donations to build his legacy library?

The Obama presidential library belongs in Illinois. It probably belongs in Chicago (as much as I’d like it here). But let the university contenders — University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago State University among them — and others make their pitch and build their own bids without taxpayer dollars.

Assignments Editor Lisa Coon also opposed the State of Illinois spending $100,000,000 on building the Obama Presidential Library, and advanced a more serious argument for building it downstate. “With Obama being the first African-American president, obviously there should be a library honoring him and his work. Should it be in Chicago — not necessarily. I think it should be downstate. If not Galesburg (a little kidding aside), then Springfield. That’s where he began his political career — at the Capitol in Springfield. If it would be located in Springfield, all of the state could embrace it.”

On Monday, April 28, 2014, the Morris Daily Herald opined, “Like many museums across the U.S., presidential libraries are excellent ways to preserve history. They are culturally significant facilities, and we support their creation in principle…”

Like other presidents before him… Barack Obama will… have such a facility built in his honor. We hope that library is built in Chicago honoring the president's long ties to the city… Such a facility to showcase the nation's first black president would add to an already culturally rich city.

That said, we're outraged at a state legislative committee's recommendation to spend $100 million in taxpayer votes toward this effort, which is entirely unnecessary. Libraries built for former Presidents… Clinton… Bush and… Bush all were financed through private donations.

Illinois still has a pension system – the most underfunded in the nation – with a $100 billion deficit. It also has unpaid bills in excess of $6 billion.

On Wednesday, April 30, 2014, the Illinois Republican Party stated in a press release, “This morning, Democrats in Springfield voted to approve $100 million in state funds for a potential Obama Presidential Library, in a do-over of an improper committee vote earlier this month.”

Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein), the ranking Republican on the executive committee, voted against the measure and voiced his concern for the Democrats’ misplaced priorities for the broken state budget.

“This comes down to a ‘want’ versus a ‘need,’” Sullivan said. “There’s no question that the Democrats ‘want’ a shiny new building for President Obama. But first, Illinois schools need supplies in the classroom, the unemployed need good-paying jobs, and the taxpayers need a break from wasteful spending like this.”

The G.O.P. stated, “The presidential libraries for last four presidents, and the vast majority of presidential libraries in the past century, have been built with 100 percent private funds.”

"We certainly think that the Obama Library in Springfield or Chicago would be a perfect location," said Jack Dorgan, Chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. "But the use of public funds at this time is unacceptable. It needs to be spent on deteriorating classrooms and fixing potholes in our streets."

On Wednesday, April 30, 2014 the Executive Committee voted again on HB6010, and in a decision made along party lines – seven Democrats voting for it and three Republicans voting against it – the majority of Executive Committee members endorsed the bill, so the full House could vote on it.

“We're not opposed to the library, but we have lots of other needs,” Rep. Sullivan said, according to McKinney“Do you want to pay for air conditioning in [Chicago] schools or a library? Do you want to pay for cops on the streets to stop the killing or do you want to pay for a library?” Sullivan asked rhetorically.

“I think it’s a great idea to have it in Illinois. We should definitely have it in Illinois and work hard to do that. It could be a great tourism draw, and tourism is a great economic opportunity for the state, which we should do more of,” Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner told Chicago Sun-Times Politics Early & Often columnists McKinney and Elise Dismer,

“But the flip side is, my understanding is presidential libraries fundamentally all over the nation are funded privately, and there’s no reason we can’t do that here in Illinois,” said Rauner, one of the state’s wealthiest men and a noted philanthropist. “We should lead a private funding initiative. We shouldn’t necessarily take taxpayer dollars.”

HB6010 had its second reading on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. If the bill passes and Governor Pat Quinn signs it, the bill will go into effect Tuesday, July 1, 2014.


Melissa Harris reported in the Chicago Tribune on Thursday, April 10, 2014 that George Lucas had planned to establish a $300,000,000 museum in San Francisco, but his negotiations with The Presidio Trust had “stalled” and he was now considering building it in Chicago. As he is now married to Ariel Investments President Mellody Hobson, he lives in Chicago part-time.
Last year, he and his wife announced commitments of $25,000,000 each to The University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and the program After School Matters. Wherever the museum is built, it will contain his collections of paintings by Maxfield Parrish and Norman Rockwell, movie memorabilia, and moviemaking technologies he and his former employees invented at Industrial Lights & Magic and Pixar.[3]

It will also include materials from DreamWorks Animation SKG, which was co-founded by his friend and sometime collaborator Steven Spielberg and of which Mellody Hobson is chairman. The National Geographic Society will also supply materials for the museum.

On Thursday, April 17, 2014, Mayor Emanuel announced he had appointed twelve people to a committee his office called a “task force that will assist in the process of exploring a potential site for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum.” The twelve members are Ted Beattie, President & C.E.O. of the Shedd Aquarium; Lee Bey, Special Projects Manager, The University of Chicago; Gia Biagi, Chief of Staff, Chicago Park District; Michelle Boone, Commissioner, Department of Cultural affairs & Special Events; Gillian Darlow, co-chair of the task force, Chief executive Officer of the Polk Bros. Foundation; Nilda Esparza, Director of Youth & Cultural Programming, Latinos Progresando; Jeanne Gang, Founder and Principal, Studio Gang Architects; Dr. Walter Massey, President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Jorge Ramirez, President of the Chicago federation of Labor; Mary Ann Smith, former Alderman of the 48th Ward; Jack Samuel, Director, New Communities Program, Claretian Associates; and Kurt Summers, co-chair of the task force, Senior Vice President, Grosvenor Capital Management.

“The City of Chicago is honored to be considered by George Lucas as the future home of the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum. As George's adopted hometown, we are excited by the opportunity to host the collection and educational programming of one of the world's most renowned filmmakers,” said Mayor Emanuel. “This task force of community, cultural and urban planning leaders will help us to determine a proper location for this unique institution that will be a local educational anchor and major international tourism draw.”

The next day, Friday, April 18, 2014, the Mayor’s Press Office announced the Lucas Museum Site Selection Task Force would introduce “multiple platforms for public input, including a public hearing and a website to accept comments.” The public hearing took place at the Chicago Cultural Center in Preston-Bradley Hall on Wednesday, April 23, 2014.

“Mayor Emanuel tasked us with ensuring the public had a voice in our deliberations to determine the best possible site for the Lucas Museum,” said task force co-chair Kurt Summers. “The public hearing and online forum will help us to consider all options to ensure the site is accessible to all Chicago neighborhoods, allows for educational programming and enhances public space.”

“I established the Lucas Museum Task Force to help in the process of exploring a potential site for the Lucas Cultural Arts Museum,” Mayor Emanuel said. “This public input process will assist the Task Force in determining a proper location for this unique institution that will be a local educational anchor and major international tourism draw.”

[1] Capital development is the process of initiating, approving, and completing construction renovation, and remodeling projects.

[2] McKinney explained the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative to which Rep. Radogno referred is “a controversial anti-violence program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn during the closing month of the 2010 gubernatorial campaign… Auditor General William Holland slammed the $54.5 million program for having ‘pervasive’ management and operational problems, prompting Republicans like Radogno to call for a federal investigation.

[3] Lucas sold Pixar to Steve Jobs when he sensed it could produce more than special effects, but did not want to invest the necessary funds himself, and Jobs sold it to The Walt Disney Company, which distributed its films. Disney purchased Pixar with stock in Disney. Consequently, Jobs became the biggest shareholder in The Walt Disney Company. After Disney purchased Lucasfilm with stock in Disney, Lucas became the second-biggest shareholder in Disney after the Jobs estate.

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