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Hawaii plays underdog in quest for Obama library

By Josh Lederman

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 07:03 a.m. HST, Dec 28, 2013

On these sun-bathed shores, Barack Obama was born and spent his formative years, soaking in an island sensibility that his wife and friends say is indispensable to understanding who he is as president. Yet in the search for a home for his future presidential library, Hawaii has become the underdog, stuck in Chicago's perpetual shadow.

It's not for lack of trying. A high-level campaign has been underway here since Obama won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 — before it was even clear he'd win his party's nomination, much less the presidency.

From the governor to the state's congressional delegation and local university leaders, Hawaii has spared no effort in laying the groundwork for a potential library, gently pressing Obama's sister and close friends, and setting aside prime oceanfront real estate just in case Hawaii's favorite son chooses Oahu to host the monument to his legacy.

But as the gears start to turn in the Obama machinery that will eventually develop the library, the focus has increasingly turned to Chicago, where Obama was first elected and came into his own as a national political figure. It is a place many of his advisers and staunchest supporters call home.

Obama's former chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is now Chicago's mayor. Obama's wife, Michelle, was born there, and her former chief of staff, Susan Sher, is leading a behind-the-scenes effort to lure the library to University of Chicago from her post in the university president's office. It's the same university where Obama once taught law and where his longtime senior adviser, David Axelrod, recently established a political institute.

So Hawaii officials have resigned themselves to the likelihood that the library, which will house Obama's records and artifacts, will go to Chicago. If that's the case, Hawaii is hoping for second-best: a presidential center, institute or think tank that can serve as a secondary base of operations for a young, ambitious ex-president.

"We really don't see it as an either-or proposition," said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, who's assisted the effort for years as a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker. "We see no reason that the president has to be forced to choose between his two hometowns."

It's a model not without precedent: Bill Clinton chose Arkansas for his library but housed his foundation and humanitarian efforts in New York.

For Obama, the process will formally get underway early in 2014, when a nonprofit foundation will be set up and a group formed to raise seed money and evaluate potential sites, said a person involved in the discussions who wasn't authorized to discuss the library by name. The plan is to create a transparent process where supporters advocating for their sites understand the expectations and goals, the person said.

Such clarity will be welcome news to Hawaii Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who is coordinating efforts in Gov. Neil Abercrombie's office and said he doesn't know what Obama is looking for in a library site.

"I wish I did. It would probably make our jobs a lot easier," Tsutsui said.

With the governor's blessing, a University of Hawaii professor, Robert Perkinson, is coordinating the statewide campaign with a small budget granted by the university.

Perkinson has made the case directly to Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who has served as a liaison between Hawaii and Washington, two people briefed on those discussions said. Perkinson's team has also pressed the case with Bobby Titcomb, Obama's childhood friend. Titcomb and Obama golfed together four times last week during the president's annual Hawaiian vacation.

Hawaii's development authority has set aside numerous parcels that could be given to the library or leased at nominal cost. The showpiece is an 8-acre plot of undeveloped land sandwiched between downtown Honolulu and the hopping Waikiki tourist zone.

From a future office on the beachfront property, Obama could have panoramic views stretching from Diamond Head, Honolulu's iconic volcanic crater, to the island's lush, fog-tipped mountains. A break wall formed by volcanic rocks buttressing the site from the Pacific Ocean might mitigate the site's tsunami risks. Students at the university have already started developing risk models.

Picturesque views aside, the plot sits in a gritty corner of Honolulu called Kakaako, where homeless encampments have cropped up on many sidewalks and methane exhaust pipes peek out from a landfill-turned-park. On a recent morning, a young woman in traditional Hawaiian garb was pushing two naked children down the street in a grocery cart.

Wary of creating the impression Obama is already looking beyond his presidency, White House officials are reluctant to discuss the library, and insist that advisers are spending little time on it.

Still, Obama's deputy chief of staff, Alyssa Mastromonaco, has been tapped as the point person for all things related to the library. Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser often described as the guardian of Obama's legacy, also is involved.

Outside the White House, Julianna Smoot, Obama's re-election deputy campaign manager and a former White House social secretary, has been tasked with raising money; if previous presidential libraries are a guide, the venture will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago businessman and Obama friend who served as treasurer for his first presidential run, is closely involved, while former White House communications director Anita Dunn is expected to handle the press component.

Tom Apple, the chancellor of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said he understands Obama's reluctance to discuss his hopes for a future library this early. Apple recalled a conversation years earlier when he was University of Delaware provost and pitched Joe Biden on building a "Biden Center" at the vice president's alma mater.

"He was the vice president, so he said, 'I can't engage in any of that while I'm sitting. So go forward, try to do all these great things, but we have to wait until I'm out of office until we can do any of these kinds of things formally,'" Apple said.

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Macadamiamac wrote:
Given the abysmal building maintenance practices of the state and the UH, President Obama shouldn't even consider placing his library here.
on December 28,2013 | 06:43AM
Uncleart66 wrote:
Barry's at the first stop of rail and Danny's at the end.....no one will use it anyway
on December 28,2013 | 08:04PM
Wazdat wrote:
WHY would they build it in Hawaii. Obama got ALL of his political insight from chicago NOT HAWAII. He had to LEAVE this state to get to where he is. Hawaii is great and all but maybe we need to have some COMMON SENSE.
on December 28,2013 | 06:44AM
hanalei395 wrote:
It will be up to Obama, and only up to Obama, where his library will be built.
on December 28,2013 | 07:40AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Illinois already has the Lincoln Presidential Library. Given Lincoln's legacy in American history, Illinois already has a political plum. Yes, he was born in Kentucky. It was the Illinois General Assembly who started the ball rolling and initiated having the library be built in Illinois.

Most presidential libraries are privately funded "through donors like you" (plug for PBS).

Agree that Obama should decide himself. His grandfather is buried here at Punchbowl, his mother's and grandmother's ashes were cast into the waves here. His maternal sister and her family still live here. And he and his family keep coming back. So, Hawaii must have a place in his heart.

on December 28,2013 | 08:28AM
Royabell wrote:
Make everything in Chicago, we don't need the expense!
on December 28,2013 | 06:44AM
kailuabred wrote:
Silly comment. It would probably a net gain with tourism, etc...
on December 28,2013 | 07:14AM
busterb wrote:
I think that's wrong, it would be a HUGE gain in tourism. Presidential libraries draw crowds. How many other chances will Hawaii ever have to get one?
on December 28,2013 | 07:21AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Presidential libraries are not huge tourist attractions. What they attract are research scholars who try to determine what really happened behind the scenes in the White House and in the president’s administration that led to the decisions made by the president. While some tourists no doubt would visit an Obama Presidential Library while on vacation here, I can’t image tourists coming to Hawaii just to visit the library.
on December 28,2013 | 08:01AM
DAGR81 wrote:
Really? How many people visit presidential libraries while on vacation?
on December 28,2013 | 11:30AM
GWakai02 wrote:
No. Period.
on December 28,2013 | 07:33AM
richierich wrote:
My wife said the same thing before our first son was born.
on December 28,2013 | 09:28AM
serious wrote:
Good one!!
on December 28,2013 | 11:48AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Why would Hawaii want the Obama Presidential Library when we will have the Inouye Senatorial Library. It will detract from the library for the late great senator. We do not want that do we?
on December 28,2013 | 07:50AM
serious wrote:
The late great senator? How about the $135,000,000 taxpayer money he got for HIS bank? What did he really do? He was the highest ranking senator--he had the purse strings. He could have had us out of the Jones Act--but NO, campaign funds for the D's were more important than a 1/3 drop in the cost of living for the citizens of Hawaii. He was a war hero, no doubt--but please, what did he accomplish except to be rated the most inefficient senator????
on December 28,2013 | 11:53AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Serious, did you really think I was serious?
on December 28,2013 | 03:57PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Chicago is the President's home town now so its not suprising that his library would be built there.......
on December 28,2013 | 07:53AM
false wrote:
Yes i think when Obama leaves office, he will return to wintry Chicago.
on December 28,2013 | 09:28AM
false wrote:
or maybe not, because he may convince Michelle to run for President in 2016.
on December 28,2013 | 09:29AM
false wrote:
And god forbid, another 8 years of the Obamas in Kailua. Well at least Sasha and Malia would not want to tag along as they will be adults by then.
on December 28,2013 | 09:30AM
false wrote:
That's like asking MUFI to run for senator.
on December 28,2013 | 09:43AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Give it a rest, please.......
on December 28,2013 | 12:21PM
serious wrote:
He has already decided, if the media is correct, to stay in DC upon his retirement--to be a lobbyist, I presume.
on December 28,2013 | 03:50PM
Carang_da_buggahz wrote:
Gee, how much space do you need to showcase a copy of "The Audacity of Hope"? And why here, anyway? This false premise that he is a "son of Hawai'i" is nothing but a feel-good public relations ploy that worked in his favor. This guy knew EXACTLY what he was doing when he moved to the center of the American Black Politicial universe, namely Chicago. Let them build the library there where his "real" fans who overwhelmingly voted for him reside. Local Boy? How laughable! Don't disgrace our state with a monument to Political Correctness run amok.
on December 28,2013 | 07:55AM
false wrote:
Audacity of Hope. It sounds so self promoting. So Big Head. The audacity that Obama would hope to be president. omg. Never read that book, never will. I prefer a book such as "You Herd Me!", by Colin Cowherd of ESPN, published last month, November 2013, Random House, audio version also available. Great book Colin.
on December 28,2013 | 09:35AM
mcc wrote:
We cant take care of existing infrastructure or our University, why build a library we cannot afford? We cannot afford all the new buildings until we repair what we have.
on December 28,2013 | 08:07AM
DanLBoom wrote:
The "RIGHT" thing is to regognize who launched his politcal career in the first place. The voters in Chicago!! It was Not Hawaii.. Auwe!!! This subject always comes up ....It's like Hawaii's trying to Drop in on HIS WAVE. If Obama gets this one right ,he'll make the "Right Choice". How about a 2nd Library here?? IMUA
on December 28,2013 | 08:14AM
Mythman wrote:
It is said he got his first money for campaigning from Hawaii, from KSBE?
on December 28,2013 | 09:02AM
false wrote:
A resounding NO, NO, NO. Why Hawaii for a bozo that only spends his Xmas vacations here, at tax payers expense? He can have his yearly shave ice in Chicago from now on. He will never be considered "local" by our residents in Hawaii.
on December 28,2013 | 08:17AM
false wrote:
btw, this comment was not by me. It was by my identical twin.
on December 28,2013 | 09:24AM
SteveToo wrote:
You have to be kidding. Using "prime oceanfront real estate" for King Obama's library. Ha ha. The State can't afford to maintain road let alone build this.
on December 28,2013 | 08:20AM
false wrote:
Punahou campus. Ideal spot.
on December 28,2013 | 09:23AM
false wrote:
I'm "false". Who you? Well, two falses make a true --- sometimes. We may not always agree but a happy new year to you.
on December 28,2013 | 09:53AM
Ronin006 wrote:
With regard to the 8-acre showpiece plot of undeveloped land sandwiched between downtown Honolulu and the hopping Waikiki tourist zone, presumably in Kakaako, Hawaii’s development authority claims “A break wall formed by volcanic rocks buttressing the site from the Pacific Ocean might mitigate the site's tsunami risks.” That is exactly what the people in Japan thought about their natural and gigantic man-made break walls along the northeastern coast until March 11, 2010 when the barriers showed they were no match for the great tsunami that struck that day.
on December 28,2013 | 11:36AM
pursuit2000 wrote:
Ha ha ha, 'Local Boy' has no problem coming here for Christmas break and costing us our tax dollars, but will not return the favor of putting his library here. Wake up minions, the King will do whatever gains him more exposure.
on December 28,2013 | 09:10AM
Mana07 wrote:
Why don't they just rename Hawaii's Natural High? Wouldn't that be more appropriate?
on December 28,2013 | 09:11AM
false wrote:
Weed? I never tried it myself.
on December 28,2013 | 09:22AM
false wrote:
It's because of Abercrombie. If Shoji was governor, it would be a slam dunk for Obama to place his library at least on Oahu College (Punahou Schools). Its not our fault Obama met Michelle in Chicago, its Obama's ambition. Obama was a US Senator in Illinois. Obama went to Harvard. Obama "only" went to Punahou, and has spent over 60% of life on the mainland USA. Ask him to speak Pidgin, and he'd say "nah i no like". Let's face it, a smooth talking midget from Buffalo ain't going to cut it. We need to have Michael W. Perry stump for us. COME ON NEIL !!!!!!
on December 28,2013 | 09:17AM
false wrote:
Even our own Department of Health is convincing the skeptics that Obama was born on Oahu, namely Kapiolani Children's Hospital, and that Obama was NOT born in Kenya. Come on Barry, decide on placing your Presidential Library on The Punahou Campus. If u don't u r saying the ultimate "up yours" to us.
on December 28,2013 | 09:20AM
hanalei395 wrote:
"Even our own Department of Health is convincing the skeptics that Obama was born on Oahu". ......Not really. Most Republicans in Congress still believe that "Obama was born in Kenya". In fact, Texas Republican Rep., Blake Farenthold, says that he has the House votes this year to "impeach" Obama, .....because of his "fake birth certificate".
on December 28,2013 | 10:02AM
kekelaward wrote:
Punahou is probably sitting on some pertinent info too.
on December 28,2013 | 10:10AM
kekelaward wrote:
That Ultimate is obamacare.
on December 28,2013 | 10:09AM
entrkn wrote:
When one reads some of the comments in this news paper, it is a miracle that Hawaii is in the running for the Obama Presidential Library at all.
on December 28,2013 | 10:51AM
hanalei395 wrote:
No "miracle". Most of the Obama hating comments are from Obama-haters who moved here. Who weren't born here.
on December 28,2013 | 11:33AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Roger that hanalei. Rich GOP who moved here, never had a long term stay, and don't want to pay taxes. Can tell by their accent.
on December 28,2013 | 06:50PM
false wrote:
Some of us were born here but got rid of our pidgeon. It's a handicap in succeeding since people don't take you seriously, here and on the mainland.
on December 28,2013 | 09:11PM
syhud wrote:
The way Hawaii maintains things after they're built, it's better not having it here.
on December 28,2013 | 11:30AM
syhud wrote:
Besides Hawaii needs to concentrate on the Dan Inouye memorial. HAIL, HAIL DAN!
on December 28,2013 | 11:32AM
Ronin006 wrote:
With regard to the 8-acre showpiece plot of undeveloped land sandwiched between downtown Honolulu and the hopping Waikiki tourist zone, presumably in Kakaako, Hawaii’s development authority claims “A break wall formed by volcanic rocks buttressing the site from the Pacific Ocean might mitigate the site's tsunami risks.” That is exactly what the people in Japan thought about their natural and gigantic man-made break walls along the northeastern coast until March 11, 2010 when the barriers showed they were no match for the great tsunami that struck that day.
on December 28,2013 | 11:35AM
Mythman wrote:
U of Chicago is a major academic powerhouse, which we cannot match, given how small we are in comparison. Too bad the big always win over the little. It's good news that we will be getting some part of it.
on December 28,2013 | 12:47PM
kailua000 wrote:
People in Hawaii dont go to libraries. Our libraries are closing, staff being let go. Presidential libraries garner little tourist attention and I cant imagine people flying 5000 miles just to go to the Obama Library. It needs to be in his home state of Chicago. He was born here but he's not local.
on December 29,2013 | 04:10AM
Konawayne wrote:
Perhaps President Obama should decide while he is here! Perhaps it will bring a more educated visitor to the islands that might not otherwise visit.
on December 29,2013 | 04:20AM
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