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
And If He Loses?
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
Obama’s Kenwood home—the future Summer White House?
And If He Loses?
Throughout his campaign, Obama has positioned himself as a champion of cities, vowing to launch a massive agenda aimed at pumping economic vitality, business, and jobs into urban centers. It’s uncertain exactly how his plan would work—and whether he could enact it. If the plan gains traction, though, Obama backers suggest that Chicago could play a leading role. "Some projects do use test cities," says Abner J. Mikva, the former federal judge and congressman, who is on Obama’s finance committee. "I’m sure we’ll see something like that in his administration, and Chicago would be high on the list."
On the city’s West and South sides, where Obama was a community organizer before entering politics, activists and residents can’t wait to see some action. They anticipate Chicago will be at the front of the line for federal dollars designated to spruce up and rebuild viaducts, streets, and public housing units. "I’m looking for the Obama administration to immediately address the long-standing improvement needs of the community," says Alderman Pat Dowell, who represents the Third Ward.
There’s scuttlebutt that Chicago would be among the first cities to get one of Obama’s proposed "urban infrastructure banks," a government-sanctioned lender designed to help jump-start small businesses in blighted areas. "I find a plan like that compelling and encouraging," says Cheryle Jackson, president of the Chicago Urban League.
Outside the city, a President Obama would likely give a boost to Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, located in the western suburbs, which in recent years have endured federal funding pressures and cutbacks. "They’re both very important to the region’s scientific infrastructure," says Lester Crown, patriarch of the wealthy family that is among Obama’s ardent backers, and chairman of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.
(Nick Shapiro, a spokesman for the Obama campaign, said the candidate’s policies would help every major city. Shapiro suggested that it was premature to discuss the impact that Obama’s election would have on Chicago specifically.)
Major policy initiatives aside, an Obama presidency has the potential to hit close to home in other significant ways—bolstering the city’s Olympic bid, for example. In June, Obama joined Mayor Richard Daley and other dignitaries at Daley Center Plaza, where he boldly told spectators that he would be "wrapping up [his] second term as president" when the 2016 games began. Obama also said he looked forward to seeing Olympic events being held in Washington Park. (An Olympics 2016 spokesman says that both presidential candidates want the games to return to the United States.)
Supporters of the Olympic bid think Obama’s multicultural background and global rock star status would help charm the International Olympic Committee, a group drawn from countries around the world that will choose the location for the games. Chicago is up against Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Tokyo, and a decision is expected in October 2009. "We need international support to win," says King Harris, a member of the Chicago 2016 Bid Committee. "It’s no secret that, internationally, Barack Obama will help give a favorable view of the U.S."
"If he’s elected, the decision to pick Chicago would be enhanced," agrees Newton Minow, senior counsel at the law firm Sidley Austin and an early supporter of Obama.
An Obama policy initiative could also aid the cause. Backers suggest that an Obama administration would push Congress to invest millions more in federal dollars for urban transit, including funding for some everyday operations—money that would literally keep the trains and buses running. If it happened, Chicago could expect to be a major recipient, especially since Obama would likely draw on the expertise of Jarrett, a member of the city’s Olympic bid committee and Chicago Transit Authority chairman from 1995 to 2003. "She’ll help enable him to get the right answers," says John Rogers, a friend and adviser to Obama who is chairman of the investment house Ariel Capital Management.
As it stands, the CTA is dogged by old equipment and frequent breakdowns—problems that have no doubt damaged Chicago’s effort to sell itself to the Olympic Committee: If the city can’t reliably move its own citizens around, how will it transport thousands of harried Olympic visitors?
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Photograph: Peter Barreras/Newscom
Already, Chicagoans are wondering which of Obama’s local friends and advisers would make the trek to Washington to be part of his administration or kitchen cabinet. "Oh, we’re all speculating. . . . It makes for great dinner conversation," says Cheryle Jackson.
There’s talk that Jarrett could become White House chief of staff. Through an Obama spokeswoman, Jarrett declined to comment. And John Rogers, who for years has played pickup basketball games with Obama, gets mentioned as someone who could head to Washington if he wanted to go. "John Rogers could have almost any spot he’s willing to take," says Mikva. Rogers declined to comment.
Other locally based Obama supporters who might get appointments include Penny Pritzker, a wealthy and early Obama backer who is considered a favorite for a cabinet position or ambassadorship. Austan Goolsbee, a tax specialist from the University of Chicago, could play a significant economic advisory role. Eric Whitaker of the University of Chicago Medical Center might be asked to handle major public health issues or other initiatives. All declined to comment.
It’s less likely that David Axelrod, the mastermind behind the Obama campaign, would officially join an Obama White House team. Obama sources say that after the election, Axelrod is expected to focus on his thriving Chicago-based political and business consultancy. Though his name has also come up as a potential appointee, William Daley, commerce secretary under Bill Clinton and now head of JPMorgan Chase’s Midwest office, says he expects to stay put. "I’ve been to Washington," says Daley, a brother of the mayor.
And If He Loses?
As the nominee, Obama is also leader of the Democratic Party. In June, Obama started consolidating his hold over the Dems’ political apparatus by integrating major campaign operations of the Democratic National Committee into his campaign headquarters on North Michigan Avenue. Even with a victory in November, however, the party operations will remain largely in Washington.
In terms of local politics, a presidential win by Obama would have an immediate impact: His U.S. Senate seat would become vacant, and under Illinois law Governor Rod Blagojevich holds the power to name someone to serve the remaining term. Again, Valerie Jarrett’s name comes up. Among the other potential appointees being widely mentioned are U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Illinois treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (a friend of Obama), and Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. There’s even speculation Blagojevich could appoint himself.
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Meanwhile, the Hyde Park-Kenwood area, Obama’s mixed neighborhood on the South Side, would almost certainly see more action and attention. "I believe they’ll keep the house in [Kenwood] but probably won’t go there in January and February," says Mikva of the Obama family.
Traffic snarls and other residential inconveniences would no doubt increase, at least when the family was in residence. What’s more, quick-buck artists would likely move in, starting stores that hawk T-shirts, mugs, and other presidential novelty items. "It will open up a whole new market, that’s for sure," says Valerie Duty Citrano, who owns Western White House Gifts near Crawford, Texas, the small town that is home to President Bush’s ranch.
Both Crawford and the tiny town of Plains, Georgia, the home of the former president Jimmy Carter, saw property values increase significantly after the local guy got elected, but both also experienced a number of business busts. Citrano says that most of the stores that opened at the start of the Bush regime are long gone. "You can have too many," she says. Jay Hakes, director of the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, adds: "In some cases, Plains didn’t live up to expectations. It was not some huge bonanza."
Hyde Park is up to the challenge, insists Bob Mason, executive director of the Southeast Chicago Commission, a community organization that works with Hyde Park-based businesses. "We’re not Plains or Crawford," he says. "We’re an urban neighborhood within a very large city. I’m confident we can stand it." He points out that the neighborhood has dealt well already with the demands of having Obama and his Secret Service force traveling through the streets.
Mason anticipates that the influx of the tourism trade, coupled with the everyday demands of a presidential entourage and the media, will boost business for existing restaurants and shops. One likely beneficiary would be Harper Court, a $6.5-million shopping center project being redeveloped jointly by the University of Chicago and the city.
Some exuberant Hyde Parkers are looking past an Obama presidency and wondering aloud where his presidential library might be located. (In February, President George W. Bush announced that his presidential library, estimated to cost up to $500 million, would be built on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.) Recently the Hyde Park Herald stirred speculation with a front-page contest asking readers to guess where the library would be built. Among the spots mentioned were two Hyde Park institutions: the University of Chicago, where Obama taught in the law school for years, and the Museum of Science and Industry. The museum campus north of Soldier Field along Lake Michigan also drew votes. "Well, that’s getting four years, eight years ahead of yourself," says Lester Crown, whose family would probably be solicited for funds to support a presidential library.
Building a presidential library and museum is one significant way that President Obama could directly benefit his hometown. For example, Jay Hakes says, the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta attracts more than 70,000 visitors annually from all over the globe.
For now, though, Rob Pierson, the trolley entrepreneur, and folks like him can only plan and await the election’s outcome. Should Obama win, Pierson is prepared to make his move, just as he did for another Chicago superstar. "We now include tours to Harpo Studios," Pierson says. "There’s an Oprah store there."
Photograph: AP/M. Spencer Green