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Madigan wants city to unite on site for Obama library: Sweet

The team of rivals angling to land the Obama presidential library and museum — Chicago State University, the University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago — united on Thursday to encourage the state of Illinois to appropriate $100 million for the project, to help lure it to the city.

With little discussion and with no opposition, a state House panel advanced to the House floor the Obama library $100 million sweetener championed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.

Shirley Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Arts Council — and Madigan’s wife — also testified in favor of the project.

The $100 million would be used to help pay the construction costs, Madigan said, with the money intended to be a gigantic carrot to impress the officials of the Chicago-based Obama Presidential Foundation.

The first proposals are due on June 16; those who make the cut will go on to a second round. Bids are expected from the state of Hawaii and Columbia University in New York

And even though the state is struggling financially, capital projects remain in the funding pipeline. Anyway, Illinois threw in about $100 million for the Lincoln Library in Springfield, “so we have precedent,” Madigan said.

While there have been some objections over the cash-strapped state of Illinois putting money toward an Obama library since Madigan announced his $100 million plan, no one testified against the state spending.

Still, Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said, “There is no firm plan to advance this bill immediately.”

The hearing was the first time any of the players have spoken in a public forum.

There was no mention of a site — the issue that sharply divides the academic institutions because each wants it in their community.

Madigan even said he wants to try to broker a consensus location using, he said, “skills that I’ve developed in the Legislature to persuade people to do things they don’t want to do”

Unlike Madigan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Barack Obama, is putting nothing on the table so far.

But Emanuel strongly wants the project for Chicago, and at some point I bet he will show his hand. “As I’ve often said, we are not going to rely on the president’s affinity for the city of Chicago,” Emanuel said at the hearing.

In private, CSU and the U. of I. are trying to maneuver around what may be a powerhouse proposal from the U. of C., seen as the front-runner because of the time and resources the school has been putting into its bid. But the U. of C.’s reputation as an elite institution — usually a plus — could be a negative in this competition its rivals may try to exploit.

As for a site, Madigan, whose power base is his Southwest Side community, said he had no preference when I asked.

“Were you thinking,” he said to me, “of somewhere in the 13th Ward?”

Email: lsweet@suntimes.com

Twitter: @lynnsweet



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