Obama Foundation organizing rally at Chicago Plan Commission meeting – Consumer News

on May15

15 May 2018 | 6:02 pm

The Obama Foundation is urging supporters of the Obama Presidential Center to meet in front of City Hall at 5 a.m. May 17, five hours before the start of Chicago Plan Commission’s meeting regarding the center’s proposed location in Jackson Park.

“We want to make sure the commissioners and the city as a whole know how much support the Obama Presidential Center has,” writes Michael Strautmanis, chief engagement officer for the foundation, in a May 12 email sent to groups around the city. The email, which Crain’s obtained, urges supporters to gather outside City Hall at 5 a.m. “We expect to get interest from the early-morning news crews,” Strautmanis writes.

“We’ll be packing the lobby and waiting areas of City Hall with our supporters before the meeting kicks off. Foundation staff will be on hand to provide directions and answer any questions,” the email continues. It said that T-shirts and buttons would be available for pickup today at the foundation’s Hyde Park offices.

During the Plan Commission meeting, “we hope to have the galleries full of our supporters who can clap and cheer for positive speakers,” Strautmanis writes. The email promises “snacks on hand to keep energy levels up” during the day, as the meeting starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 5 p.m. The email concludes with a link to a sign-up sheet for the event.

“The idea of rallying people outside of City Hall five hours ahead of the meeting seems a little disingenuous to me,” says Ward Miller, executive director of nonprofit Preservation Chicago. “It will be disruptive to a democratic hearing process about a very important issue impacting a Frederick Law Olmsted legacy park known the world over.” Miller says that Preservation Chicago urges the foundation and former President Barack Obama to “do the right thing” and look elsewhere in the city for a location.

“We are a little surprised that they feel it’s necessary to do this,” says Margaret Schmid, a co-founder of Jackson Park Watch. The advocacy group does not oppose the center’s location in the park, “but we do wish it to be in greater harmony with the park and the neighborhood,” Schmid says. Jackson Park Watch has concerns about the effects of closing Cornell Drive, which former President Barack Obama said is necessary to create the presidential center. Schmid plans on attending the meeting. “We will get there on the early side, but we don’t plan on being there at 5,” she says.

Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council and a supporter of the center’s current plan and location, plans to arrive at 5 a.m. and stay until the meeting adjourns at 5 p.m. “Getting the center up and going is critical to the kind of wonderful revitalization we want to happen on the South Side,” McCurry says.

Strautmanis says the foundation organized the rally to give supporters of the center the opportunity to show that enthusiasm and support. “We are enthusiastic about our project and we have people who are also enthusiastic about it,” he said in a phone interview. Strautmanis estimates he sent the email to several hundred people, and adds that the foundation has gotten postcards and letters in support of the project. He declines to say how many. “I want the Plan Commission to be the first to hear that,” he says.

In response to concerns that the supporters will block dissenting voices: “For everything we have done, we have wanted to hear the voices of folks who have raised concerns,” Strautmanis says. “I will leave it to the Plan Commission to organize the meeting.”

On Monday, a group called Protect Our Parks filed a suit in U.S. District Court to stop the city’s planned transfer of 20 acres of parkland to the Obama Foundation. The suit calls the Obama Presidential Center an “institutional bait and switch,” as the planned center is no longer a federally administered presidential library.

And the Plan Commission’s approval, should it happen this week, isn’t the final step for the center. It awaits a federal review of the project, as it is located on land that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

More:

Obama Presidential Center controversy about parks, not race

First images emerge of Obama library



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