HYDE PARK — During his two terms as president, Barack Obama was lured back to his adopted hometown most often when he needed money.
Obama made 19 trips to Chicago during his tenure as president. Ten of those trips were for fundraisers for his political campaign or his Democratic allies’ campaigns.
He averaged between two and three trips back to Chicago every year of his presidency, and half of the time he was in town primarily to fundraise.
That may be bittersweet for the city that supported Obama’s rise to political power since he was a state senator.
"We had just arrived at the helicopter landing zone in Chicago and instead of walking right to the motorcade, the president and first lady walked past their vehicle to the edge of Lake Michigan to view the skyline of their home town," said White House photographer Pete Souza about this June 15, 2012, photo. [Flickr/The White House]
When Obama did leave Washington, D.C., it was more likely he was headed to nearby New York City than Chicago.
He made 25 trips to New York City during his tenure, and 13 of those trips included an official fundraiser, but often also included an official policy announcement, a visit with heads of state or a night off to catch Joe Turner’s “Come and Gone” on Broadway.
New York City was the setting for announcements on financial reform, anti-terrorism initiatives and speeches on race relations.
Chicago has a reputation of jealousy for being relegated a minor league city compared to New York and Los Angeles, and Obama didn’t give Chicago much help in getting over that impression.
His visits to Chicago were often about parochial concerns. He came back to help Alexi Giannoulias in his failed attempt to win a U.S. Senate seat against contender Mark Kirk and to boost Pat Quinn’s failed campaign for governor against rival Bruce Rauner.
President Barack Obama throws a football at Soldier Field after the NATO working dinner on May 20, 2012.
Obama did put Chicago on the national stage several times though, most recently in April when he visited the University of Chicago to push for confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, his pick to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.
When the president wanted to make a big statement about gun violence and gun control, he picked Chicago in October 2015 during the annual meeting of the International Association of Police Chiefs.
“It’s easier for many young people to buy a gun then buy a book," Obama said at the meeting at McCormick Place. “It’s easier to buy a gun than it is to find fresh vegetables in a supermarket. That's just a fact.”
Being the place the country thinks of when it comes to gun violence is not a point of pride and is unfortunately a bipartisan view, with president-elect Donald Trump also focusing on the city’s reputation for violence.
First lady Michelle Obama also focused on gun violence during her infrequent visits home. Twice she came back to Chicago to talk about the violent death of King College Prep student Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed a week after returning from Obama’s second inauguration in 2013.
“I can’t tell you how many times people have met my mother and asked her, ‘How did you ever manage to raise kids like Michelle and Craig in a place like South Shore?’” Michelle Obama said at the graduation ceremony for graduating seniors from King College Prep in 2015, the year Pendleton would have graduated.
“And my mom looks at these folks like they’re crazy, and she says, ‘Michelle and Craig are nothing special. There are millions of Craigs and Michelles out there, and I did the same thing that all those other parents did — I loved them, I believed in them, and I didn’t take any nonsense from them.’”
Barack Obama also made personal appeals to students most affected by the city's violence and championed programs, like Becoming a Man at Hyde Park Academy, that were helping kids.
Barack Obama's neighbors in Kenwood sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 51st birthday on Aug. 12, 2012.
Barack Obama’s infrequent visits home has made life easy for the Secret Service detail guarding his home at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave.
In 2016, he only made one stop at home — from Oct. 7-9, his longest stay at his home during his presidency. After a fundraiser at the Stony Island Arts Bank, Obama relaxed at home before jumping between dinner dates at Sepia and Swift and Sons in the West Loop to talk to supporters and hash out plans for his presidential library.
In other years, Obama slept in his own bed in Kenwood two nights a year. About once a year, he would pop in, flying into town in the morning and then boarding Air Force One again in the evening.
It’s some comfort to know the party was always in Chicago. Obama celebrated both election victories in Chicago and celebrated his 50th birthday with a party at the Aragon Ballroom.
Obama will end his presidency striking that same note again in Chicago, with an end-of-term party planned for Tuesday at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Martin Luther King Drive.
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