Editorial | Another fast one by Chicago pols

Editorial | Another fast one by Chicago pols

What started with such promise has become emblematic of The Chicago/Illinois Way.

Illinoisans are justifiably proud of their presidents — all of them — so the news was warmly greeted when former President Barack Obama announced he would build his planned presidential library in Chicago.

Having an Obama library in Chicago and a Abraham Lincoln library in Springfield seemed like perfect bookends to celebrate the historic presidencies of both men. The attraction would draw both tourists to see and learn about the lives and times of both men as well as scholars to review the records of both administrations and write their histories.

But the Obama library project has gone off the rails in a way that could only happen in the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago. To call what's occurred disturbing understates the bait-and-switch that the Windy City's power brokers are trying to pull.

That's why it's time to stand up to this taxpayer-subsidized affront to the rule of law.

For starters, what was billed as a presidential library, a federally run repository of the papers generated by President Obama's eight years in office, has been reinvented.

The Obama Presidential Library, as now envisioned, will become the Obama Presidential Center. It will embrace a political mission and be privately owned and operated.

Public records describe the revised facility as an entity that will advance Obama's "initiatives beyond 2017 and have local, regional and global impacts."

The records state that the center is intended to be "the world's premier institution for training young people and leadership to make a difference in their communities, in their countries and in the world."

While losing the library represents a stark disappointment, it certainly would be within Obama's purview to build a training center intended to advance any of the causes he deems important.

But what was once billed as privately funded entity is not that at all.

To re-emphasize that point, here's how an Obama spokeswoman initially described the project.

"... no taxpayer's money will go to the foundation," she said, asserting that "construction and maintenance will be funded by private donations."

Now, unfortunately, Obama wants taxpayers to underwrite his political operation. That's where all the political monkey business, overseen by Democratic leaders in Springfield and Chicago, has come into play.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan once suggested the state would contribute $100 million to the project. But in a standard move out of the Madigan playbook, it turns out the massive budget plan dropped on legislators at the last minute in May contains as much as $225 million for the Obama center.

It's intended to pay for transportation improvements that would not be necessary if the center was not being built on and near Chicago's Jackson Park.

The move demonstrates once again that, although the state is effectively bankrupt, there's always enough cash floating around for our elected officials to skim off the top to advance their narrow political interests.

Bad as that is, there's even more, to the point that the nonprofit group Protect Our Parks filed a 33-page federal lawsuit to stop the project.

To build the 12-story, 235-foot tall building, a portion of publicly owned Jackson Park was been transferred, allegedly in violation of state law, to the Obama Center in exchange for a payment of $1 (that's correct — $1).

How did that happen? The legislature approved an amendment to the state's Museum Act to grease this taking. The amendment also authorized a special park district property tax to pay for the upkeep of Obama's private institution.

"Defendants have chosen to deal with (this issue) in a classic Chicago political way, known as a short con shell game, a corrupt scheme to deceive and seemingly legitimize an illegal land grab, one that will endure for centuries to come, regardless of future changing public park needs and increasingly consequential environmental conditions," the lawsuit states.

If the facts are what they are alleged to be — and they seem to be — this is another one of those classic Illinois/Chicago political scams that is breathtaking in its scope and audacity.

To give credit where credit is due, when Chicago/Illinois politicians come together on a scheme to fleece the public and demonstrate that they are a law unto themselves, they think big.

But this outrage cannot be allowed to stand. Former President Obama should call a halt to his plan. Rather than serving as a monument to his memory, it would represent a permanent stain on his reputation.

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