Hawaii has an early lead in pitching the islands as the future home of President Barack Obama’s library, museum and think tank, but yet another Illinois-Hawaii smack-down is brewing over where it will actually end up.
The Hawaii Legislature has sent the White House a joint resolution that it passed last session urging Obama to pick Hawaii as the site for his library. Officials at the University of Hawaii are creating working groups in the next few weeks that will study a wide variety of issues, including finding a suitable site for the complex, designing it, deciding how to best manage the archives, designing museum exhibits and learning how best to create a related academic program and research center.
And on Sunday a Hawaii delegation led by Reed Dasenbrock, UH vice chancellor for academic affairs, will fly to Washington, D.C., to meet with the head of the presidential library division of the National Archives and to Little Rock, Ark., to meet with the director of the Clinton Presidential Center and the Clinton Foundation.
Any group can lobby the president to build his library in their community.
"But I feel the stars are aligned in a certain way that we are really going to fight to win this," said Robert Perkinson, a UH associate professor of American studies who has been pushing to get Obama’s library in Hawaii and hopes the institution would be affiliated with UH. "I think we’re going to do what it takes. And that means over the next months and years developing an architectural proposal that is breathtaking and a museum that’s innovative and has a really robust public education component that could benefit all of the kids of Hawaii and a policy center that could really help us meet Hawaii’s challenges and those of the larger Pacific and the larger world."
As usual, Obama supporters in Chicago have their own claims on Obama and want to see his library in the Windy City.
So they’re not about to let Hawaii get Obama’s presidential library without a fight.
Illinois state Sen. Terry Link, a golfing and poker buddy of the president’s who served with him in the Illinois state Senate, plans to push for Obama’s library to be built in Obama’s Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park — when the time is right.
It’s premature to begin laying the groundwork now, Link said, because of the economic climate and because Link hopes Obama has six more years to serve in the White House before worrying about where to build his library.
"At the proper time, though," Link said, "I’d like to lead the charge."
"I know Hawaii wants to claim his birthright there," Link said. "But what led him to the presidency was the state of Illinois. He was elected from the state of Illinois. He was the senator from the state of Illinois. He got his political feet wet in Illinois."
Link cited several presidential libraries that were not built in the president’s birthplace, so Obama’s hometown of Honolulu does not have a clear advantage on that fact alone, Link said.
"We call Illinois the Land of Lincoln, and in generations to come it will be considered the Land of Obama," Link said.
Officials at the University of Chicago, where Obama taught at the law school, have been quoted as saying they want to be part of an Obama presidential library in Chicago.
But a spokesman for the University of Chicago told the Star-Advertiser that university officials have no comment.
Alice Dewey knows that the folks in Chicago want Obama’s library as badly as the people in Obama’s birthplace.
She is a UH anthropology professor emeritus, an Obama family friend and formerly the adviser to Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, when Dunham studied at UH.
"We can claim him (Obama) and they can claim him," Dewey said. "We may have stiff competition. But a lot of who he is was shaped here by the local culture."