News & Politics

Obama Presidential Library Group Sued for 'Institutional Bait and Switch'

FILE - In this May 3, 2017, file photo, former President Barack Obama speaks at a community event on the Presidential Center at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

You can take the politician out of Chicago but you can’t take Chicago out of the politician.

A Chicago non-profit group is suing the Obama Presidential Center for what they are calling an “institutional bait and switch.”

The suit alleges that the Chicago Park District and the city of Chicago do not have the authority to transfer public parkland to a private entity, namely the Obama Foundation.

It has long been expected that the Park District would sell the land to the city for a nominal amount and the city would enter into a long-term lease with the Obama Foundation. The lawsuit, which also names three Chicago-area residents as plaintiffs, argues that such a maneuver would violate state law and represents “a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab.”

“The City and Park District clearly realize and fully understand that this established law precludes the Park District from arbitrarily transferring possession, use and control of this dedicated ‘open, clear and free’ public parkland in Jackson Park to a private nongovernmental … entity’s self-determined use,” the complaint says.

The plaintiffs accuse the Obamas of committing an about-face on original plans for the Jackson Park site to be home to a national presidential library that would hold historic documents and archives from Barack Obama’s presidency under the National Archives and Records Administration’s supervision.

In a statement released Monday, the city framed the lawsuit as a roadblock to economic progress for the South Side.

“The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side, bring our communities together and honor the legacy of Chicago’s favorite son and daughter. While some choose to stand in the way of progress for the South Side, we are focused on making progress in every community in Chicago,” the statement read.

The non-profit group, Protect our Parks, Inc., is standing in the way alright — standing in the way of graft, featherbedding, corruption, and kickbacks. How dare they!

“Friends of the Parks has always said that we welcome the Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side but disagree with the choice to locate it on public parkland rather than vacant land across the street from Washington Park,” Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, said in a statement Monday. “While we are not involved with this lawsuit in any way, it is an indication of the fact the Friends of the Parks is not alone in our concern about Chicago’s parks being seen as sites for real estate development.”

Of course it would be better if the library were constructed on vacant land. Anyone who has seen the moonscape that is Chicago’s South Side knows there are plenty of vacant areas that the library could clean up and occupy.

But where’s the fun in that? No chance to grease the palms of Park District honchos. Besides, God forbid that the Obama Foundation would have to spend their own money to actually buy a plot for the library.

Getting powerful city officials to do you favors is part of the Chicago Way. And you can spell it in 5 letters:

C-L-O-U-T.