Let’s just get it out there: Barack Obama is not from Chicago. It’s his most recent non-White House address, and he held office here, but really, it’s the place he landed after graduating law school. Plenty of people choose cities for job opportunities, and that’s what Obama did when he moved here from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Really, the guy is from Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts and even a little bit Indonesia. He is a polyglot person, like many of our nation’s brightest stars.
But Chicago is where he made his bones as a grown-up. Our city shaped him, molded the molten steel of his personality into the sharp blade he has become.
When he ran for U.S. Senate in
2006 2004, every stump speech included the line, “I’m a skinny guy, with a funny name from the South Side of Chicago.” Those of us from the South Side (as I am originally) laughed and clapped each other on the back, as we thought about all our friends with African-esqe names and how strange it might seem to outsiders that a guy named “Barack” would be so…normal.
Obama invited us, from the outset of his political career, to think of ourselves as the insiders. He was our clan, our people, and Chicagoans together were going to show America how it’s really done. When he went to Washington, he brought a herd of Chicagoans, including our current mayor Rahm Emanuel, and more importantly to Chicagoans of color, one of our brightest African American executives, Valerie Jarrett.
We were in. Not because we were invited, but because Barack (we use his first name warmly, like a neighbor) was one of us and we were part of the plan. Yes, it was clannish, but it’s the kind of loyalty Chicagoans do, and when it works, it works well.
Over the years though, he spent little time at his house on Greenwood Ave., and much more in Hawaii. We understood. He was busy and that place is probably too cramped for a President’s entourage. When he’s done with all that D.C. stuff and comes home, we’ll welcome him like the brother and good neighbor we know him to be.
Then things started to go awry with the whole Presidential Library thing. It seemed that maybe putting it in New York wasn’t just a foil, but a real possibility. What was up with that? A university with more Nobel Prizes than anyone else wasn’t good enough? Where Michelle used to work? Your hometown, Barack?
And then the whispers that Chicago wasn’t where they wanted to be, but actually New York. That was just too much to bear. Consuming it, we had two choices: believe it to be true and struggle with pain, or pretend it was just wasn’t true.
I’ve done the latter, until today. Yes, they’re still rumors, but why the heck hasn’t Barack put them to rest? Why hasn’t he and his family vacationed here? Went to a movie in Harper’s Court? Caught a Sox game? Gone to Rainbow Cone?
If President Obama – the guy in Washington, not our brother and neighbor – chooses to go to New York City after his presidency, he will have perpetrated one of the greatest frauds in Chicago history. He will have ditched our loyalty. Made that whole 2008 victory speech in Grant Park seem like a lie. He wasn’t us. We were just a stepping stone.
It’s a free country President Obama. But if you dump us like it looks like you’re about to, it’s going to be a burned bridge. And we, the neighbors you counted on, not politicians and businessmen, we never forget.