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Rahm: I'll Talk to the President About Making Pullman National Park Happen

By Mark Konkol | August 22, 2014 7:33am
 Rahm Emanuel made a last-minute stop at an event promoting the Pullman Historic District as a potential National Park.
Rahm Emanuel made a last-minute stop at an event promoting the Pullman Historic District as a potential National Park.
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DNAinfo/Mark Konkol

PULLMAN — A few years back, I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, dangling my Chuck Taylors over the great expanse as the sun set, taking in the brilliant pastels of the natural wonder that U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt had the foresight to designate as National Park to preserve the view for guys like me.

Not once did I think I'd ever live in one.

But if all goes well — and admittedly I have my doubts — my historic rowhouse could wind up smack in the middle of National Park No. 402.

Maybe you've heard about the big push to declare the Pullman historic neighborhood — railroad mogul George Pullman's factory town that was dubbed the "World's Most Perfect Town" by the Prague International Hygienic and Pharmaceutical Exposition in 1896 — as nationally significant as Yellowstone, the Washington Monument and Mount Rushmore.

Back in January, Illinois politicians proposed two bills — one in the Senate and another in the House — that call for doing just that. It's a move that could bring more than 300,000 visitors a year, 350 jobs paying out $15 million in annual wages and pump $40 million into the local economy by putting our historic industrial ruins on the National Park Service map.

Despite "bipartisan support" those Pullman National Park proposals have languished in Senate and congressional subcommittees. And that leaves only one real chance to make it happen — an executive order by President Barack Obama.

Now, my hopeful neighbors would like to think that move would be a slam dunk since President Obama's career as a community organizer started with coffee klatches at the Pullman McDonald's on 115th Street.

But in politics, like life, there are no sure things.

That's why so many of my neighbors showed up at Thursday's meeting at the Pullman Administration Building to prove to visiting National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis that the proposal had enough community support to ask the president for his approval.

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) started off the Pullman love fest and U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly joined in the chorus.
U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, and Gov. Pat Quinn sent representatives as a sign of support.

I even tweeted out a couple photos of the crowd at the President's Twitter handle.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's chief political strategist David Spielfogel retweeted me adding; "Let's get this."

Now, it was made clear by a City Hall bureaucrat that Mayor Emanuel met with Jarvis Thursday afternoon and was in full support of the Pullman National Park initiative.

But folks in the crowd wondered why the mayor — the only guy who can text Obama on his Blackberry — didn't show up in person if this public hearing was so important.

So, I asked Spielfogel on Twitter, "Where's @RahmEmanuel."

He quickly responded, "we met with them today. Plenty of city support in the room."

And that led to a little back and forth.

"Well tell him people were asking about him," I tweeted. Followed by this: "BTW @Fioretti2ndWard is here."

Ald. Robert Fioretti of the 2nd Ward may run against Emanuel for mayor.

 Pullman's chances of earning a national park desigation have improved following an economic impact study.
Pullman National Historic Park
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And, clearly, I was just having a little Twitter fun with Rahm's top political guy.

In fact, at the very moment I sent those tweets, the Pullman Administration building, packed with more than 300 people, was so hot and muggy that the microphones had gone out.

Fioretti was in the middle of a long speech about lifelong ties to the neighborhood (he grew up in Roseland) and years of fighting to keep Pullman's history preserved.

Since there were dozens of other neighbors and community leaders lined up to put their two cents in and I was sweating profusely, I decided to bolt. After all, Chicago's Jackie Robinson West was on ESPN, trying to hold on to a narrow lead and reach the U.S. championship game of the Little League World Series.

I was almost back home when Spielfogel tweeted, "It's never too late to make an appearance …"

I rushed back to the hot sweaty room, and sure enough, Mayor Emanuel was on the makeshift plywood stage telling the eager Pullman crowd that he wants that National Parks designation so bad that he plans to talk to President Obama about it personally, according to a reliable source close enough to actually hear what Rahm was saying.

Anyway, by the sound of the cheers it was exactly what my hopeful neighbors wanted to hear.

The mayor hopped off the stage, slapped a few high fives, pumped his fist and took a moment to talk to a nice older lady in a wheelchair on his way to his big black SUV to watch the Little League game.

That's where I asked him, "Was this a planned stop or did you come last minute?"

"I was on the way to the game and they told me and I said I'd come. Actually, I met with Jonathan [Jarvis] today," Emanuel said.

I asked how it went.

"You heard what I said," Emanuel said curtly as the tinted window rolled up.

"Well, thank you again for coming," a nice lady from my neighborhood said to the mayor.

Emanuel rolled down the window and smiled. "Thanks for having me," he told her just before his driver pulled off.

On Twitter, Spielfogel suggested that I hitch a ride to watch the Little League World Series with Rahm and other Jackie Robinson West fans.

"I would have but @RahmEmanuel didn't offer," I tweeted back, adding, "Some folks were happy to see him," in recognition that his getting the mayor to stop by may have paid off at least a little.

Fioretti must have noticed, because he quickly bragged on Twitter that he wasn't just making a pit stop on the Far South Side.

"Born and raised nearby. Visit often," he wrote.

I then headed home to watch our South Side little leaguers. It was a nail-biter that came down to the final out, but the Jackie Robinson West squad from Morgan Park won in the end.

We'll see if my Pullman neighbors, who have labored so long to preserve the historic community for generations to come, enjoy a similar ending.

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