WASHINGTON — The formal process to build a library housing President Barack Obama’s presidential records and artifacts began Friday with the formation of a new foundation, launched by top supporters with Obama’s blessing, that will develop and build the 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 is already underway. Hawaii, where Obama was born, and Illinois, his longtime home, have lobbied the Obamas publicly and privately. New York, where Obama went to college, also 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 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 operates 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. “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.
“Though we’re excited to welcome the president home, we are not resting on our laurels and will put forward a competitive proposal so that his choice is an easy one,” Emanuel said.
In February, the foundation will ask parties that want to host the library to make their interest known. That list will be culled and in May, the foundation will notify the groups that will be invited to submit formal, detailed proposals. The president and first lady Michelle Obama will make the final decision, and the foundation will announce it in early 2015.
“He has asked us to lead the planning and development of a library in a way that reflects his values and priorities over the course of his career in public service,” Nesbitt said in an interview — values such as expanding economic opportunity, promoting peace and dignity abroad and inspiring the ethic of American citizenship.