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Make Obama Center Put Its Promises In Writing, Activists Urge City

By Sam Cholke | September 21, 2017 6:22am | Updated on September 22, 2017 11:54am
 Nearly 250 people came out to Hyde Park Academy Wednesday for a meeting about getting commitments in writing from Obama Presidential Center officials less than a week after Barack Obama said for the first time he didn't see the need for such an agreement.
Nearly 250 people came out to Hyde Park Academy Wednesday for a meeting about getting commitments in writing from Obama Presidential Center officials less than a week after Barack Obama said for the first time he didn't see the need for such an agreement.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WOODLAWN — Barack Obama’s attempt to brush aside calls for written commitments regarding his presidential center appear not to have worked, with a crowd of nearly 250 coming out to a Wednesday rally where Che “Rhymefest” Smith joined the push as supporters target the City Council.

Obama’s request Thursday that the community trust him and his nonprofit to do the right thing while developing the center in Jackson Park seems to have done little to immediately assuage those who want him to put commitments in writing to hire local and minority contractors, to replace used parkland elsewhere and other promises.

Smith praised Obama as a president at the rally at Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., but asked the audience to treat him as a politician — not a god — and hold him and his nonprofit accountable for the promises they make.

“Just because you’re a nonprofit doesn’t mean you escape the responsibilities to the community,” Smith said.

He said he believes that Obama will come around in the end, and he hopes that Michelle Obama reminds him that people don’t trust anyone making big promises to the South Side.

Explicit requests of Obama’s foundation, the city and the University of Chicago are expected to come in the next month.

Jay Travis of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organizaiton said an ordinance will be introduced at October’s City Council meeting with specific wording.

Organizers said the ordinance will be introduced by one of the 50 alderman, but would not name the alderman.

It is expected to ask Obama’s foundation to hold its contractors to the foundation’s commitment that more than a third of contracts go to minority-owned businesses, among other things.

The Obama Center plans already have prompted real estate speculation in Woodlawn, with home values going up an estimated 23 percent in the first six months of this year.

Activists worry that the sharp spike in property values in Woodlawn will mean unaffordable taxes for the poorest homeowners in the neighborhood and escalating rents for the mostly young working-class black families who have been driving the growth of Woodlawn in the last five years.

The ordinance is expected to make a bigger ask of the city than the Obama Center and to freeze property taxes, set up a fund to slow rent increases or other measures to moderate gentrification.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) is an immediate target of efforts to persuade aldermen.  She has been critical of the process of planning the presidential center in her ward in the past.

Activists plan to send her 1,000 postcards in the next five days pushing her to support the ordinance in the Council.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 11.