WASHINGTON PARK — Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said he would prefer parkland not be used for the Barack Obama Presidential Library, and Washington Park groups are demanding an explanation as the selection of the library site approaches.
Garcia tempered his comments Monday after saying late last week that the Obama library should not be built in Jackson or Washington parks.
"He will absolutely support the decision of the community," said Sylvia Ewing, deputy campaign manager for Garcia, on Monday.
She said Garcia's preference was that the Obama library not use parkland, but he would work toward building the library at the Washington or Jackson park sites if either was chosen by the president.
The Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and the Washington Park Consortium at a news conference Monday both called on Garcia to come to the South Side to explain his opinion.
“Too much is at stake to quibble at this late hour,” said the Rev. Leon Finney Jr. of the Bronzeville church, which bused its congregants down from the church at 4100 S. Martin Luther King Drive to support using parkland at several Chicago Park District hearings.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in favor of giving up space in either park for the Obama library. Emanuel’s campaign was not immediately available to comment.
Garcia's campaign added his own support to the South Side sites Monday, though he was personally hoping the library would go in North Lawndale at the University of Illinois Chicago proposed site.
“While it is my view that the library does not have to come at the expense of public parkland that has enormous historical significance for everyone in Chicago, I will support the South or West side site,” Garcia said in a statement.
With an announcement of the library site from the Obama Foundation expected this month, the disagreement over using parkland is shaping up to be the first South Side fight between the candidates in the mayoral runoff election.
Residents of Washington Park and Hyde Park reported getting calls from Garcia’s campaign detailing his support for the presidential library coming to the South Side.
But the comments have shaken some South Siders wary that disagreeing or trying to find a compromise with the University of Chicago or the mayor’s office now about how the parks are used could jeopardize their chances of getting the library.
“If you support the South Side, you support putting the library on public land,” said Torrey Barrett, president of the Washington Park Consortium and an early supporter of using parkland.
Chicago Forward, the independent expenditure committee supporting Emanuel, also got into the game.
Hyde Parkers reported getting a call from the political group on Saturday that they characterized as a "push poll." The automated message asked if they supported putting they library on parkland “like a majority of their neighbors,” according to those who got the call.
Though polls from the Obama Foundation, the University of Chicago and the Chicago Tribune have shown broad support for using parkland, none has asked about building on parkland, a question that has deeply divided the neighborhoods around Jackson and Washington parks.
Becky Carroll, CEO of Chicago Forward, said the call was not meant as a poll and was intended as a political statement about Garcia's comments about the proposed library sites.
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