Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, greets President Barack Obama at Hyde Park Academy High School in Chicago, Ill., on Friday, February 15, 2013. | Andrew A. Nelles~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 17, 2013 6:53PM
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama returned home Friday and talked in a very personal way about the horrible violence in Chicago — “the equivalent of a Newtown every four months — but let’s face it, he can’t be the cop on the beat.
Figuring what to do in the short term about the soaring murder rate in the city is Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s job.
Obama’s speech at Hyde Park Academy was all about the big picture: root causes of crime, fatherhood and how investments to revitalize communities to create jobs with a living wage is as much an answer to curbing gun violence in U.S. cities as other measures Obama is prodding Congress to consider.
“There are entire neighborhoods where young people — they don’t see an example somebody succeeding,” Obama said. “For a lot of young boys and young men in particular, they don’t see an example of fathers or grandfathers, uncles, who are in a position to support families and be held up in respect. And so that means that this is not just a gun issue; it’s also an issue of the kinds of communities that we’re building,” Obama said.
Obama’s third and last stop of his post-State of the Union swing was intensely moving: Twice this week, at the school and during the Tuesday State of the Union address, Obama talked about Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old gunned down in a park near the Obama family home on Jan. 29, days after she was in Washington for his inauguration. A week ago, First Lady Michelle was at her funeral.
Obama often uses his biography in his speeches and Friday presented particularly obvious opportunities. Obama talked about his move to Chicago to become a community organizer on the Far South Side where he worked with local people to “help young people who felt like they had nowhere to turn.”
Ironically, some decades later, Obama is still grappling with the same problem, now on a massive scale.
The Obama team has labeled portions of his second term economic and education agenda — the programs to hoist the working poor into the middle class and give disadvantaged kids a running start — “ladders of opportunity,” with the first rung preschool classes for almost everyone.
Each program faces a hurdle in Congress, with Obama bracing for tough negotiations in the weeks ahead over looming spending and budget issues. On the gun front, there appears to be the most bipartisan support — especially in the Senate — for closing the background check loopholes, a rather logical extension of existing law.
But I want to get back to the local impact of Obama finally coming home to talk about crime in his adopted hometown. Obama did bring a gift from the Navy — a multimillion-dollar grant for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education at the Adm. Hyman Rickover Naval Academy, 5900 N. Glenwood.
And for all the fire Emanuel is under for the murders in the city, Obama refused to criticize his former chief of staff in any way — instead praising him for making priorities of preschool and high school STEM education.
FOOTNOTE: After spending about four hours in Chicago, Obama headed to southern Florida to relax and perhaps play some golf this Presidents Day weekend. Mrs. Obama and their daughters are off skiing this long weekend.