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Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Anita Blanchard, For No Clear Reason, Joins the Committee for the Preservation of the White House

But surely there’s a post in D.C. for the family friend who delivered the President’s daughters.

The White House Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

Anita Blanchard is a name that’s familiar to Chicagoans who follow political news.

She one’s of Michelle’s best friends, an OB/gyn at the University of Chicago Medical Center who delivered both Obama daughters. Her children went to the University of Chicago Lab School with the Obama girls. And, her husband, Marty Nesbitt, is an uber-connected businessman/ Barack’s BFF basketball buddy, and main port in a storm. The Nesbitts and the Obamas—Kenwood neighbors—are so close that they vacation together (Hawaii, Martha’s Vineyard, Michelle’s controversial 2010 blowout vacation in Spain, just wives and daughters). They relax together in DC and Chicago, and Anita threw a fundraiser for Barack at their home here during the heat of the 2012 campaign.

The Chicago Tribune’s Katherine Skiba reported today that Anita Blanchard has been appointed to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. According to the White House web site, the Committee was established by LBJ in 1964 “…to advise on preservation and conservation of the public rooms of the White House and its collection of fine and decorative arts and acquisition of artworks for the permanent collection.”

The First Lady is the Honorary Chair, and, to relay the seriousness of the committee’s purpose, ex-officio members include the Director of the National Gallery of Art, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, and the Chair of the US Commission of Fine Arts.

Anita Blanchard is a physician, an associate professor of Obstetrics/Gynecology with a B.A. from Northwestern in neurobiology and physiology and medical training at the University of Chicago from medical school to internship to residency to her current medical practice.

She’s surely qualified for many committees and commissions, but is an historic preservation commission one of them?

But, then, President Obama was following in the footsteps of his former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Soon after becoming mayor, Emanuel put Blanchard on a similar type of panel, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, for which she had zero evident qualifications. Perhaps the Mayor thought no one would notice when he nominated her in 2011 to the Commission, which was charged, among many other things, but most in the news this year, with deciding the fate—the wrecking ball—of the Prentice Women’s Hospital at Northwestern. Get it? An OB/gyn weighing in on the architectural significance of a building in which women give birth?

Not everyone got it, including the Tribune’s architecture critic, Blair Kamin, who wrote in July 2011 that neither Blanchard nor other “bewildering” nominees of the new mayor belong on “the panel entrusted with safeguarding the city’s architectural treasures.”

Could the fact that Nesbitt donated $5,000 to Emanuel’s mayoral campaign have anything to do with the nomination? … At Thursday’s commission meeting, it became clear that the mayor is not going to reappoint four highly respected members of the panel, including two architects, a National Park Service official with a master’s in historic preservation and a preservation-minded financial services consultant. Instead, he’s backing Blanchard and a well-known local chef, Chinatown’s Tony Hu, along with two career politicians, former Ald. Mary Ann Smith and former Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan, who bring at least a modicum of experience to the table.

Anita Blanchard and Marty Nesbitt are indeed Rahm supporters. They hosted a meet and greet for the candidate at their Kenwood home during the 2011 mayoral campaign.

Kamin noted that city law requires the commission to “be selected from professionals in the disciplines of history, architecture, historic architecture, planning, archaeology, real estate, historic preservation, or related fields, or shall be persons who have demonstrated special interest, knowledge, or experience in architecture, history, neighborhood preservation, or related disciplines.”

Back to DC: Here’s a quick peek at the impressive backgrounds of the other members, several of them Chicagoans, whom Obama appointed in 2010 to his Committee for the Preservation of the White House:

Pamela Bass-Bookey
“Co-developer and design consultant for the recently restored Temple for Performing Arts … President of the Greater Des Moines Public Art Foundation. …. For 25 years, she was the owner of Bookey Fine Arts, an art consulting business.”

Lonnie Bunch
Founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, … previously served as the President of the Chicago Historical Society, and as Associate Director for Curatorial Affairs at the National Museum of American History.

Robert G. Clark
“Chairman and CEO of Clayco, Inc., one of the nation’s largest, privately owned real estate, architecture, engineering, design, and construction firms.”

Thelma Golden 
“Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, an institution devoted to artists of African descent, locally, nationally and internationally and for work that has been inspired and influenced by black culture, … [former] curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art. ” Richard H. Jenrette, “… founding partner of the investment firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette … Since retiring, he has continued his focus on restoring historic homes and has published several books, including Jenrette: The Contrarian Manager and Adventures With Old Houses. He has served as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the National Trust for Historic Preservation Crowninshield Award, the National Trust’s highest honor.”

Lew Manilow
“Founder and former President of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. He is also the Honorary President of the Goodman Theatre, a Lifetime Trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago … In 2000, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts for his efforts in restoring the Theater District in downtown Chicago.”

Richard C. Nylander
“Curator emeritus of Historic New England (formerly The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities), a Boston-based preservation organization that manages 35 historic house museums from Connecticut to Maine and maintains a collection of more than 120,000 artifacts relating to the cultural heritage of New England. He is an internationally recognized authority on historic wallpapers and has written and lectured widely on the subject.”

Linda Johnson Rice
“Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Johnson Publishing Company, Inc. which publishes EBONY and JET magazines … Ms. Rice serves on the Board of Trustees of The Art Institute of Chicago and is a Co-Chair of the Advisory Council of The National Museum of African American History and Culture.”

Paul Schimmel
“Chief Curator of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He has organized dozens of major exhibitions … He was the recipient of the Bard College Center for Curatorial Studies Award for Curatorial Excellence in 2001.”

Michael S. Smith
“Founder/principal of Michael S. Smith, Inc., a design firm located in Los Angeles and New York. In 2008 he was chosen by President and Mrs. Obama to redecorate the White House living quarters. He is the author of two best-selling books, Elements of Style (2005) and Houses (2007).

Beth White
“Director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, a national organization dedicated to land conservation and the creation of urban parks. … [formerly] Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, and founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River where she led the creation of the award winning Chicago River Urban Design guidelines. Ms. White also worked on the creation of the first landmarks protection ordinance and staffed the Historic Preservation Commission for the City of Highland Park. As the former Chair of Lakewood Balmoral National Historic District Committee, she led the designation of the Lakewood Balmoral neighbood on the National Register of Historic Places.”

John Wilmerding
“Emeritus Professor of American Art at Princeton University, and an adjunct curator in the Princeton University Art Museum. … Chair of the Board of Trustees of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. He is also as a trustee of the Guggenheim Museum and the new Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Arkansas. Mr. Wilmerding is a former commissioner of the National Portrait Gallery, visiting curator in the Department of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum, and has also served as Senior Curator and Deputy Director of the National Gallery.”

To put the best possible light on it, I suppose if anyone goes into labor at a meeting or has an urgent medical question, Dr. Blanchard will be at the table.

A call to Dr. Blanchard at her office today was not returned by post time.

Postscript: Just to connect another dot, Marty Nesbitt has been tasked to scope out Chicago sites for the Obama library and museum.

But that’s another story.

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