WASHINGTON –– An influential Chicago nonprofit will tell President Obama that a decision by his foundation to pick the University of Chicago's bid to get the presidential library and use public park land is fraught with legal obstacles, according to a letter obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Friends of the Parks, the nonprofit "dedicated to the conservation of Chicago's parks and lakefront beaches," will appeal to the president and First Lady regarding public land usage for the Obama presidential library — and say that potential legal action could be on the horizon.
Last week, the Chicago Park District board voted to transfer –– for $1 –– close to 20 acres of parkland to the city in the case that the University of Chicago's bid to host the Obama library was chosen as a host site. The University of Chicago and the Obama foundation have both said that the land transfer would improve the city's chances on being selected. The decision is expected to be made by the Obamas relatively soon.
"We appeal to your thoughtful judgment, as a former local community organizer and international leader who represents and espouses equality and change, that a potential lawsuit is not the foundation upon which to build an institution which represents the legacy of your life's achievements," the letter states.
In some of its strongest language to date, Friends of the Parks reiterated its opposition for the Obama foundation to green light the University of Chicago's bid for the library in Washington or Jackson parks, which are both adjacent to the school's South Side campus. Friends of the Parks will attach an article by Newsday which reported that Obama met with the group in 1986 over efforts to improve the quality of green space in the South Side. That context, Friends of the Parks argues, "should guide our efforts in protecting irreplaceable public parkland for the residents, while also providing an opportunity to place your library in the Washington Park neighborhood on non-park land."
"Given the significant legal and community relations obstacles surrounding the proposed use of either of these parks as the potential location of the Obama Library, to pursue either of these parks would divide the very communities which your legacy helped to unite."
Friends of the Parks is seeking to meet with Obama on Feb. 19 while he is in town to designate Chicago's historic Pullman Park district as a national monument. The trip, first reported by the Washington Post, commemorates the work of George Pullman, the businessman whose black employees were known as Pullman porters. Their work to create the first black labor union was instrumental in the shaping of the Civil Rights movement.
"The placement of the Obama Library in our historic parks does not respect our city's history and irretrievably promotes the legal practice of transferring public assets for private use," the letter reads. "We respectfully urge you to show the high level of leadership that you have consistently demonstrated and make the right choice, one that honors our city and the ideals you have inspired in its people."