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Here to raise dough, celebrate big 5-0, Obama says: ‘It starts now’

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Updated: November 2, 2011 7:08PM



President Barack Obama left the heated partisan atmosphere in Washington on Wednesday for an overly warm hometown 50th Birthday Party with 2,400 fans and donors packing the historic Aragon Ballroom in Uptown.

“It doesn’t matter how tough a week I have in Washington, because I know you’ve got me — you’ve got my back,” President Obama told the crowd. “When I come to Chicago, when I travel across the country, I know we can’t be stopped.”

Introducing Obama, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said “This looks like the Uptown Music District,” a reference to one of the mayor’s pet entertainment projects.

With Jennifer Hudson leading the crowd in singing Obama “Happy Birthday” and with a thermometer on the stage reading 92 degrees, Obama joked, “This is a warm welcome right here.”

Before he addressed the sweating crowds, the president spoke back-stage by video link-up to a thousand other mini-birthday/organizing parties in 1,000 living rooms around the country, as well as seven other fund-raising events around the country.

Taking a slap at Republicans who refused to agree to any higher taxes on the wealthy as negotiations went right up to deadline in the debt-ceiling negotiations, Obama told the Chicago crowd, “I hope we can avoid another self-inflicted wound like we just saw over the last couple of weeks. Because we don’t have time to play these partisan games. We’ve got too much work to do ... It is going to continue to be challenging every step of the way.”

“But we can do it,” a woman shouted from the audience.

“But we can do it,” Obama agreed. “We have made some incredible strides together. Yes we have.”

In his video link-up to the parties around the country, Obama said, “I am beaming in from Chicago … You may hear the ‘L’ train in the background. It’s passing right next to us.”

He then launched his pitch for supporters to begin working on his re-election.

“It starts now,” he said.

He took questions from three key primary states: Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio.

So if somebody asks about taxes, he told one supporter, “what they want to know is our campaign stands for a fair, just approach to the tax code that says everybody has to chip in. And it’s not right if a hedge fund manager is being taxed at a lower rate than his or her secretary. That’s a values issue.”

For the past week as Obama strained to reach an agreement with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling, staff worked on readying this ornate ballroom with its Spanish colonial architecture for Obama’s party. Extra air conditioning was brought in but it was overwhelmed by the weather and crowd.

Obama fans fanned themselves as they strained for the few breezes of air conditioning in the cavernous, crowded ballroom. And even Herbie Hancock and his band sweated on-stage.

“I know you’re all hot — I can see that fan going,” Emanuel told the crowd as he introduced Obama. Emanuel met Obama at O’Hare Airport and choppered with him to the Lakefront. “In the ‘City that Works,’ we like our presidents with big shoulders,” Emanuel said.

Obama took the stage and told the crowd, “It’s true that I turn 50 tomorrow, which means that by the time I wake up I’ll have an e-mail from AARP [the American Association of Retired Persons], asking me to call President Obama and tell him to protect Medicare.”

Revelers paid $50 to $35,800 for their tickets. About 100 heavy rollers got to stick around after the concert for a dinner with the president.

Had Obama not reached an agreement with Republican and Democratic legislative leaders Saturday night on a deal to raise the debt ceiling, the party was in danger of being scrapped.

Obama’s re-election campaign is being run from an office in the Prudential Building downtown. He has been out-raising his would-be Republican challengers, who are scheduled to debate in Iowa next week.

Outside the Aragon, immigration rights protestors were chanting “Yes you can stop deportations.” One man held a “Stop the wars” sign.

Inside the Aragon, Obama got cheers when he said, “We are a nation of immigrants. We want to welcome extraordinary talent to our shores and have a legal immigration system that works for everybody.”

The man Obama acknowledges as his political mentor, retired State Sen. Emil Jones – who Obama met when he was a community organizer trying to stage a protest outside Jones’ office – said on his way into the party that voters should cut Obama some slack: “Obama cares about immigration. I know he does. But getting legislation passed in Washington is more difficult than it is in Illinois.”

Obama delivered his speech Wednesday in rolled-up shirt sleeves. He donned a jacket for the pricier private dinner with the high-rollers afterwards. But walking in, he immediately took off the jacket, declaring it was “too hot.”

Emanuel promptly retrieved Obama’s jacket and slung it over his own chair, saying he would keep an eye on it.

“Thank you. Now, that is service,” Obama said to Emanuel, adding: “I still have a pothole in front of my house.”

A chocolate-and-carrot birthday cake from Eli’s Cheesecake was on the menu for the $35,800-a-plate dinner.

Earlier Wednesday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Illinois Republican Party Chairman Patrick Brady hosted a conference call to unwelcome Obama home to Chicago.

“Today after failing to lead during the debt ceiling debate … the Fund-raiser in Chief is back in Chicago doing the one thing that he’s really good at and that’s raising money to save his job,” Piebus said. “We’ve lost 2.5 million jobs since this president took office, yet the only job Barack Obama seems to be concerned with is his own.”

Brady chimed in: “I do wish him a Happy 50th birthday and I hope that he considers the fact that when he comes here to raise money, he is in the state with the worst budget deficit of the 50 states.”

Contributing: Lynn Sweet



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