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If He Wins…?

From Olympic dreams to entrepreneurs’ schemes—how Chicago might benefit if a certain senator from Illinois becomes president

(page 1 of 3)


Valerie Jarrett (right) is among the advisers expected to join a Barack Obama White House staff. It’s doubtful his campaign strategist David Axelrod (center) would follow Obama to Washington

 

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And If He Loses?
by Robert Reed

The prospect of a President Barack Obama fills the top executive of Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Company with the audacity of hope. The company president is dreaming not of seismic political change but of the possibility of attracting new customers eager to visit Obama’s haunts in his adopted hometown, places where the Democratic Party candidate lived, worked, and played. “Focusing a tour around Obama and his personal local story is something we’re going to consider,” says Rob Pierson, president of Chicago Trolley, which is owned by a Scottish-based company.

The trolley operator isn’t the only one thinking of how Chicago will change if Obama wins the presidency. Some backers of the Illinois senator expect the city to reap an Obama dividend if he prevails over GOP opponent John McCain in the November election. The anticipated advantages range from landing more federal money to enhancing Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. Key local advisers and friends—such as the real-estate executive Valerie B. Jarrett—would likely land influential roles in the new administration. And Obama’s Hyde Park-Kenwood neighborhood expects a rash of new shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions, especially if the Obama family comes home to a Summer White House.

“There will be a lot of Chicagoans who will benefit [from an Obama presidency], just as a lot of Texans benefited under Bush,” says Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

How far could this really go? Presidential experts warn not to expect too much from the local hero. The nation’s chief executive is politically constrained from doling out a lot of goodies and favors to the home team. “What a president does isn’t the same as a congressman—he’s not there to bring home the pork,” says Richard Norton Smith, a scholar in residence at George Mason University and former director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield. “But his very presence does serve to cast a huge spotlight on his hometown.”

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Photography: (Obama) AP photo/Ariel Schalit, (Axelrod) Reuters/Jason Reed/Landov, (Jarrett) Chicago Tribune photo by Zbigniew Bzdak

 

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