The search for a home for President Barack Obama’s presidential library is officially underway.
With Obama’s blessing, top supporters are launching a foundation that will develop and build the library, which will both house his presidential records and serve as a monument to his legacy.
The nonprofit Barack H. Obama Foundation will be led by Marty Nesbitt, a close Obama friend from Chicago, and Julianna Smoot, a former White House social secretary and top official in Obama’s re-election campaign.
A vigorous competition to host the library has already ramped up. Hawaii, where Obama was born, and Illinois, his longtime home, have been lobbying the Obamas both publicly and privately. New York, where Obama went to college, also has expressed interest.
With so many of Obama’s aides and supporters calling Chicago home, the focus has increasingly turned to the Windy City, where Obama was first elected and came into his own as a national political figure. The involvement of Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman, in forming the foundation is likely to amplify speculation that Chicago has an inside track to getting the library. The third founding member of the nonprofit’s board, Kevin Poorman, is also based in Chicago and runs a company formed by Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker, who is now Obama’s commerce secretary.
“No specific site, institution, city or state is advantaged over another at this point,” Nesbitt said in an interview. “The ultimate site will be chosen based on the merits.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, said Chicago is “undeniably a natural fit” to host an Obama library and museum.
The foundation plans to hire full-time staff later this year. Although it will start fundraising right away to cover its own costs, most of the money to build the library won’t be raised until after Obama leaves the White House. While Obama is still in office, the foundation won’t take donations from foreigners, lobbyists or organizations that aren’t nonprofits. It also plans to disclose all donations over $200.
The president, Mrs. Obama and White House staffers won’t raise money for the foundation until Obama leaves office, the group said. Obama will be kept up to date but won’t be closely involved in the screening of the site proposals.
In Honolulu, University of Hawaii professor Robert Perkinson, who is heading a statewide campaign for the library, said Hawaii’s efforts would now accelerate. “We have most of the building blocks we need, but assembling everything will take a lot of hours,” he said.