David Simas, the CEO of the Obama Foundation, told the Chicago Sun-Times on Friday a “transparency process” is being developed to track whether Obama Presidential Center contracts and jobs are flowing to minorities, but he was reluctant to pledge – at this time – to installing an independent monitor.
The question of whether an inspector-general-type position is needed to reassure the public that pledges are being kept about the project benefiting minorities was raised during a wide-ranging meeting between Obama Foundation officials and the Sun-Times editorial board.
Former President Barack Obama and his foundation have set high minority contracting goals and will be installing internal safeguards.
But the public has reason to be skeptical, the best intentions of Obama and his foundation not withstanding. Reporters in Chicago have been writing about sham minority contractors and government efforts to deal with cheating for years.
The Obama Center complex, to be constructed on 19.3 acres in Jackson Park, is to include a forum, a building likely to house a Chicago Public Library branch, an athletic/large group meeting facility and a 235-foot tall tower to contain the Obama museum, the signature building of the campus. Simas estimated the price tag for construction would range from $300 million to $350 million.
CONTEXT: The edit board session took place while the foundation tries to drum up public support as it seeks crucial approvals for the project from City Hall and the federal government.
The foundation filed its application for needed approvals last Wednesday. The city and federal reviews will take place concurrently.
IS THE CLOSING OF CORNELL NEGOTIABLE? Digging up Cornell Drive, a main artery through Jackson Park, was never mentioned when President Barack Obama announced Jackson Park as the site for his center in August 2016.
But it turns out the controversial proposal was lurking in the background from the start. Robbin Cohen, executive director of the foundation, told the Sun-Times, the suggestion to close Cornell was in “the original proposal from the University of Chicago.”
The University of Chicago bid to put the Obama Center on Chicago’s South Side.
The foundation wants to transform Cornell, now a six-lane roadway, into a pedestrian and bike path – a greenway connecting the Obama campus with the Museum of Science and Industry and eastward to Lake Michigan.
Closing Cornell has sparked community outcry.
Is this negotiable?
“I don’t want to get into what’s negotiable and what’s not negotiable,” Simas said. “We have filed our plan. We believe this is the best approach.”
One of the architects, Billie Tsien, told the edit board: “We wanted to close Cornell Drive. It seemed to us a quite obvious proposal because it was really about uniting the park.”
ENFORCMENT OF CONTRACTING PLEDGES: From the start, a goal of Obama has been to use his center to provide jobs and contracts to the surrounding community….