Washington Secrets

Obama expected to chose Chicago for presidential library

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets

Despite a hard-charging effort by the University of Hawaii to win President Obama's presidential library and museum, the University of Chicago tops the list because it will draw more visitors and has strong ties to Obama, his family and close staff.

But the decision may not come for up to two years, as the president juggles his agenda and legacy before focusing on the library, especially the necessary private fundraising for the facility that the government will take over once it is built.

Library insiders reveal that the two universities are the leading contenders, with Chicago taking a very low-key approach and Hawaii, which recognizes its No. 2 status, working harder. For example, the school recently visited with officials at former President George H.W. Bush's library at the Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas.

Roman Popadiuk, the former executive director, told Secrets that they were "hot to trot," seeking to know "what would it take" to win the facility. The president grew up in Hawaii and vacations there.

But Popadiuk said that it's unlikely Hawaii would get the library and museum because it won't attract enough tourist traffic like a facility in Chicago would. "The chances of them getting it are pretty slim," he said.

Chicago Sun-Times White House correspondent Lynn Sweet recently reported that Chicago had stepped up their bid to win the library and museum. "University President Robert Zimmer is very interested in securing the library," she reported.

Also fueling expectations is the likelihood that the president will return to Chicago after his second term ends. Typically presidents live near their libraries and museums. Obama taught at the University of Chicago.

U of C made headlines this month when their plans to tear down former President Reagan's boyhood home in Hyde Park were revealed. The site will not be big enough to house Obama's facility.

There are critics, however, including a University of Chicago professor. Charles Lipson worried that the library will push Obama's political agenda. But he told Secrets that closed nature of the negotiations are undermining any chance to raise questions.

"I expect the Obama people and the University of Chicago administration to hold it very close to their vest and, when they are good and ready, present it to the university as very close to a 'done deal.' Don't expect these discussions between the White House and the University of Chicago to be featured in any future Obama Museum exhibition about how this was the most transparent presidency in history," he said.

Associates said that Obama already has a rich legacy to display in his presidential museum. Likely show stoppers would include his being the first African American elected to the White House; Obamacare; the economy, with a focus on the auto industry; and possibly gun control if he succeeds in his push to renew the assault weapons ban.

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