McCORMICK PLACE — Fourteen teens generously given tickets by fellow Chicagoans were among the 20,000 people that filtered into McCormick Place on a windy Tuesday night.
As people climbed three flights of stairs to a dauntingly long line, there was a lot of speculation about what President Barack Obama would say at the event billed as his farewell speech to Chicago and the nation.
Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, was as excited as the 14 teens who got the donated tickets.
“We’re excited,” Cole said. “We just had lunch at Papa Johns and now we’re just excited to get up there.”
In the crowd of 20,000 people expected for the event, the teens walked up alongside some of Obama’s closest advisors.
David Axelrod, chief strategist for Obama’s presidential campaigns, said he thought he had a sense of what the president would say.
“He’ll be as forward looking as he is reflective,” Axelrod said.
Local officials, like Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th), hoped Obama would provide some consolation for people worried about the next four years with Donald Trump as president.
“I’d like to hear that Trump won’t be able to do some of the things he says he’ll do,” Burnett said.
Burnett and others said the event was both sad and a last moment for celebration of the election of the first black president.
Even officials who couldn’t score VIP tickets like Axelrod and Burnett braved lines that started around 5:30 a.m. Tuesday to get in.
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) said she will be out in the crowd with everyone else hoping Obama gives a final message of hope to people in Chicago.
There were still those unlucky few who weren’t able to get tickets and were hoping for a last-minute act of generosity.
Jeff Palmer said he came out from Kalamazoo, Mich., Saturday morning and waited four hours to get a ticket only to give it up to his goddaughter. He held up a cardboard sign asking for a ticket at the entrance of McCormick Place, but wasn’t too hopeful.
“That’s OK, It was fun to be here,” Palmer said. “I’m sure there’s a bar somewhere with a TV.”
The crowd started to filter into the main hall as reports came in at 5:30 p.m. that Air Force One had landed at O’Hare International Airport.
Obama was expected to stop at Valois in Hyde Park for an interview with NBC, but high winds had forced the president, Michelle and daughter Malia Obama to travel by motorcade, according to reporters traveling with the president.
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