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Obama’s library foundation picks acting chief

FILE - APRIL 10 2014: President Obamnominate Office Management Budget Director SylviMathews Burwell replace Health Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

FILE - APRIL 10, 2014: President Obama to nominate Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 04: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the President of the Walmart Foundation, listens as U.S. President Barack Obama announces her nomination budget director during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House March 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. The nominations will be key appointments for Obama's second term while focusing on the issues of the national budget as well as energy and climate issues. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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Updated: May 12, 2014 6:43AM

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle and Marty Nesbitt, a leader of the Obama Presidential Foundation, toured the LBJ Library on Thursday, though the main purpose for being there was for the president to deliver his speech marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

But the visit to the library and museum in Austin, Texas, comes as the Obama foundation is staffing up, the first donations are in the pipeline and bidders for the Obama Library and Museum are working on proposals due in June. Chicago real estate executive Robbin Cohen has been tapped as the acting executive director for the foundation.

At the start of his speech in Austin, Obama said, “We came down a little bit late because we were upstairs looking at some of the exhibits and some of the private offices that were used by President Johnson and Mrs. Johnson. And Michelle was in particular interested to — of a recording in which Lady Bird is critiquing President Johnson’s performance.

“And she said, come, come, you need to listen to this. And she pressed the button and nodded her head. Some things do not change, even 50 years later.”

Obama foundation

Cohen “will oversee the operations of the foundation and will work closely with the board to liaise with potential host sites and manage the site-selection process,” a foundation spokeswoman said.

The foundation is led by Chicagoan Nesbitt, the co-CEO of The Vistria Group; Julianna Smoot, a co-chair of the 2012 re-election bid; and J. Kevin Poorman, the Wilmette businessman who took over several companies run by Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker after she stepped down to join Obama’s Cabinet. Cohen also comes out of the Pritzker orbit; she is a former president of the Pritzker Realty Group. She is the owner and operator of Cohen Investment Group, LLC, a real estate investment company targeting Chicago multifamily acquisitions and developments.

“Kevin and I have known Robbin professionally for a long time, and we have the highest confidence in her abilities. We are very grateful that she’s agreed to help manage the Foundation as we get our efforts off the ground,” Nesbitt said.

The foundation will disclose the names of the initial donors and the amounts they contributed to the public after the end of the second quarter, which wraps up on June 30.

I asked Nesbitt about fundraising in an interview and he told me “the bulk of the fundraising really won’t take place until after the president finishes his term (at) which time he will be involved in the fundraising, and then we will raise whatever we need to build the library.”

The Foundation release a “RFQ” — requests for qualifications document — last month with replies due June 16. Those making the first cut will be invited to submit formal “request for proposals” (RFP) later this summer. The foundation expects to select a site in early 2015.

University of Chicago update

Over at the University of Chicago — the frontrunner based on the time and resources they are pouring into their bid — I have some new insight into how the school will respond to the RFQ. The U. of C. is likely to “outline multiple possibilities” for a site, I am told, which means they want to keep a lot of options open in order to make their bid stronger and not be welded to a particular piece of real estate. The RFQ asks bidders to provide information on sites and does not preclude several site proposals.


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