Federal lawsuit accuses Obama Presidential Center of 'bait and switch' in land grab of park space

Chicago is planning to hand over 19 acres of  public parkland, occupying a prime lakefront site, to a private entity, for a nominal sum, in order to build a monument to Barack Hussein Obama.

Now a Chicago nonprofit, Protect Our Parks, filed a lawsuit Monday in federal court alleging, according to the Chicago Tribune, that:

... established law precludes the Park District from arbitrarily transferring possession, use and control of this dedicated 'open, clear and free' public parkland in Jackson Park to a private nongovernmental ... entity's self-determined use," the complaint says.

The complaint cites an "institutional bait and switch" because the original plan was for a federal entity to take possession of the land and build an Obama Presidential Library, which would be publicly owned and controlled.  That was the bait used to obtain priceless open park land that would be taken away from the citizens of Chicago.  The switch came when the presidential library plan was sidelined, and in its place was instituted a "presidential center" that would be under the control of a private foundation, with Barack Obama himself in a position to shape the center's planning, mission, and operations toward whatever ends he desires.

No longer would public archives and historical documents be available for scholars and the public to peruse and come to their own conclusions about the Obama presidency.  That is the sort of public purpose, under public control, that justifies handing over precious park land.  In its place is a monument to Obama, built by his friends and supporters, in the pursuit of whatever goals and glory are determined by the private entity.  As plans now stand, community organizing classes and basketball courts are part of the future for the formerly public spaces.

As a private entity with no public control, the Obama Presidential Center's ability to grab public land is questionable, according to the lawsuit's reading of the relevant statutes.

Protect Our Parks is more confrontational than another, better known, group, Friends of the Parks, which has had reservations about the details of the Presidential Center plans but has not challenged the legality of handing over parkland.


... the city framed the lawsuit as a roadblock to economic progress for the South Side.

"The Obama Presidential Center is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars that will create good jobs on the South Side, bring our communities together and honor the legacy of Chicago's favorite son and daughter.  While some choose to stand in the way of progress for the South Side, we are focused on making progress in every community in Chicago," the statement read.

In my view, if Obama's friends want to raise money to put up a monument glorifying him, they have every right to do so and even can probably justify tax deductibility for their contributions, though in turn they must avoid overtly partisan exhibits.  But confiscating park space and handing it over for a nominal sum to a group with no public control or accountability is not legal, according to the lawsuit.  Public officials already have been caught short-circuiting required reviews of the OPC.  It's time to get the thumbs off the scales of justice and treat this private corporation for what it is, not as public entity, which it is not.