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Sweet: Two close advisers tapped to lead Obama library push

Marty Nesbitt

Marty Nesbitt

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Updated: August 25, 2013 6:29AM

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, pondering his post-presidency, is directing a small circle of longtime advisers to actively start thinking about his future, including where to locate his presidential library.

I have it from multiple sources that Chicago business executive Marty Nesbitt will lead the process, with Obama putting in charge one of his closest friends, a golfing and basketball buddy who was treasurer of his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

Julianna Smoot, an Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager who was the 2008 campaign finance director, is also part of the leadership and will oversee the fund-raising drive that will eventually be associated with an Obama library.

The inner circle also includes White House Senior Adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Alyssa Mastromonaco who is handling the Obama post-presidential portfolio. Every sign continues to point to the Obama library being located in Chicago.

The group started coming together in the spring and will step up the pace, I’m told, during August. The Obama family will be spending part of that month on a vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. (Obama mentioned in a speech Monday night that his daughters, Malia and Sasha, are at camp.)

It is not clear yet when papers forming a new entity — a foundation or some other type of non-profit — will be filed.

For now, I’m told, one of Nesbitt’s assignments is to start considering presidential library sites. All decisions concerning the process are totally left up to the president.

A presidential library is part museum and part library; earlier this year I wrote that it will be in Chicago. There is no other place — certainly not Hawaii, where Obama was born — with the sustained financial muscle and self-serving long-term interest — to match a play Chicago will make for the library.

Simply put, Obama has a strong base of major donors in Chicago who have followed him through his career, and it would be inconceivable to me that they would pour money into a library not in Chicago or that Obama and First Lady Michelle would turn their backs on the city and people who made his presidency possible.

Add to that mix that the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, is Obama’s former chief of staff; his former top strategist, David Axelrod, founded the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and Organizing for Action, the organization carved out of the Obama campaign, has its headquarters in Chicago.

There are now a string of former ambassadors and other former Obama administration officials — including former Chief of Staff Bill Daley — who are back home in Chicago. And Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, one of the richest people in the world, is a Chicagoan who has long history of supporting major civic initiatives. Nesbitt, who just launched The Vistria Group, a private equity firm, also formerly ran The Parking Spot with Pritzker.

Even if the Obamas do not return to live full-time in their Kenwood home — Mrs. Obama spent a rare night a the house when she was in Chicago last week — where they will personally live after January, 2017, does not have to be a factor.

Former President Bill Clinton’s presidential library is in Little Rock, Ark. even though the former president and Hillary Rodham Clinton moved to New York upon leaving the White House—and Clinton’s office is in Harlem.

For a few years, the University of Chicago seemed to corner the Obama post-presidential market, laying the groundwork to forge an institutional alliance with a future library and tapping U. of C. . executive Susan Sher, a former chief of staff for Mrs. Obama to take the lead. Sher has visited other presidential libraries and was at the George W. Bush Center Library and Museum dedication in April.

In recent months, however, some local competition has emerged to challenge the U. of C.—where Nesbitt’s wife, Dr. Anita Blanchard, is associate professor of obstetrics/gynecology at the medical school.

University of Illinois at Chicago Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares “has formed an exploratory committee to look into it,” UIC spokesman Bill Burton told me on Tuesday.

The committee, created in May, consists of archivists and others on the staff who are looking at the feasibility of making a play and where there might be a place for it. Chicago State University is also taking steps to put together a pitch.

A modern-era presidential library and museum is massive. The new Bush library covers 23 acres on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In Chicago, an Obama library would not have to be on the footprint of any campus. Sites mentioned through the years have included the location of the old Michael Reese Hospital; Bronzeville; Pullman, and areas south or west of the main U. of C. campus.

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