UPDATE: An Obama campaign official told me Tuesday evening that the birthday party/fundraiser will definitely happen—with or without a deal on the debt ceiling. Asked if President Obama would attend anyway in the event there is no agreement by August 2nd, she replied, “That’s a White House decision.” Her response was the same when I asked if a surrogate would appear in Obama’s place, and who that person would be. A call and an email to the White House press office have not been answered by post time.
President Obama turns 50 on August 4th, and plans for his party on the day before have been in the works for months. According to a source close to the campaign, this birthday bash, to be held at the storied Aragon Ballroom in Uptown, differs significantly from last year’s party. In 2010, with the election further in the distance, the celebration was deliberately Chicago-centric. It included, over two days, a dinner at Graham Elliot with Oprah, Gayle King, and Obama’s best buddies Eric Whitaker and Marty Nesbitt. The next night featured a sit-down shindig packed with locals, at the home of Chicago billionaire and real estate/casino mogul Neil Bluhm.
This year, as news reports note a diminished Chicago base among bundlers, the campaign is attempting to make fundraising more national. And the crowd, my source expects, will have more of a national feel. “Last year was more of a just Chicago gathering; this year is a national gathering. We have a lot of people flying in from all over the country for this.”
Asked for names of local attendees, my source demurs: the campaign has not yet released a list. Still, he names one local, Barbara Manilow, and two out-of-towners: both national deputy finance chairs for the DNC—Mark Gilbert from Miami and Kirk Rudy from Austin, Texas.
This year’s concert headliner is Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson. Also ready to go are jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, another Chicago native, and the rock band OK Go, whose members are originally from Chicago.
The private sit-down dinner with Obama at the Aragon will cost $35,800 per couple, and the campaign is hoping for 50 couples. A photo with the president and a seat at the concert will cost $10,000 per person. Standing-room only at the concert—the president will offer a greeting to supporters but no handshakes at this level—goes for $200 per person.
Asked if Obama will spend the night at his Kenwood house—the neighbors will surely want to know—my source guesses he will. “It’s going to be a late night by the time the concert starts.”
Oprah will definitely not be there. But, says my source, he hears that she is planning an event for the president next year, perhaps at her California home. Rahm Emanuel will probably be at the Chicago party, says the source; he doesn’t know about Rich Daley.
Despite all of these plans, there’s the possibility that the whole thing may get canceled or delayed. Obama, in the throes of the debt-ceiling crisis, probably should not be seen partying while the country defaults and people who depend on government checks don’t get them. The president has already scratched several fundraisers that were to take place last week, and yesterday, the campaign confirmed that Obama canceled a West Coast trip to California and Washington.
2 months ago