NEW YORK — Even though the proposals for President Obama's presidential library have already been submitted, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel remains "extremely involved" in the process, according to two sources close to the process.
The mayor maintains regular correspondence with Obama foundation chief Marty Nesbitt and at least one other person affiliated with the library effort. "There's been no stronger voice for having Chicago" than the mayor, said David Spielfogel, Emanuel's closest aide.
Emanuel appointed a special working group tasked with landing the library — coordinating efforts and creating ideas for the library to spur the city's economic development, create synergy between the library and Chicago Public Schools, and, where needed, to improve mass transit, according to Spielfogel.
Speilfogel, in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News, said that work is not yet complete though the proposals from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois-Chicago were submitted earlier this month.
"I certainly think we have put forward a competitive bid, but we obviously are trying to makes ours the strongest possible," Spielfogel said. "At the end of the day we feel strongly the president is going to choose where he got his [political] start here in Chicago for the location of his library, which is what every other president has chosen to do."
The urgency in Chicago may be based on an unknown quantity: the bid made by Columbia University, another finalist to land the library. Both the foundation and Columbia confirmed the proposal's receipt, but Columbia has declined repeated requests for an interview about its plan.
"Sorry, but we can only confirm that we have submitted a proposal, but are not revealing details about or disclosing our proposal," Columbia spokesperson Robert Hornsby wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News, referring to an earlier statement released by the university.
News about the Columbia proposal has been relatively limited. One source said to be involved in the project declined an interview with BuzzFeed News, citing a non-disclosure agreement.
What is known is that Columbia's pitch would make the Obama presidential library the centerpiece of its controversial, $6.3 billion Manhattanville development project, which is already building on 16-acres situated north of 125th St. in Harlem. Construction on the revitalization project has already begun on the Jerome L. Greene Science Center and the Lenfest Center for the Arts.
Two sources told BuzzFeed News that plans for the construction of another building on a site across from the Harlem's famed Cotton Club is on hold as for the Obamas to make a decision, which is expected to come early next year. If Columbia is selected, the sources said the library would have a 125th St. address, which is officially Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Obama received his undergraduate degree from Columbia in 1983, and any proposal would likely take that legacy into account. The library and museum would also be a victory for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is also orchestrating a simultaneous effort to bring the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Brooklyn.
Marti Adams, a de Blasio spokesperson, in an email to BuzzFeed News, said the de Blasio administration "has had detailed discussions with Columbia about its plans and is tremendously excited about the proposal, and we stand ready to support the bid however we can."
Emanuel's response? "Work on the DNC convention. Your time will be better spent," the mayor said, according to the Sun-Times.
"I haven't seen Columbia's proposal," Spielfogel said. "But we're certainly not intimidated by it."
Darren Sands is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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