CHICAGO — With a deadline looming, bidders on Friday were putting the final touches on their initial pitches to host the future Barack Obama Presidential Library and Museum.
The Barack Obama Foundation — the group of supporters tasked by the president with organizing the selection process — has given interested institutions and groups until Monday to provide details about how their proposals would fulfill the president's priorities for the future library.
While this is just the first major deadline in a process that won't be completed until early next year, several of the universities vying for the library have already begun a media relations push to show that they are the most capable of reflecting Obama's priorities — as detailed by the foundation — of "expanding economic opportunity" and "inspiring an ethic of American Citizenship."
The request-for-qualification packages are also expected to detail logistical, financial and organizational information as well as site details, transportation access and community information. The foundation has said that it envisions the president will look to select a site that can be an anchor for local economic development.
The University of Illinois at Chicago, a public institution on the West side of Chicago, announced that it would dispatch a group of six students to Washington, D.C., on Monday to lobby legislators as the university formally submits its 200-page proposal.
The university picked students whose personal stories connect directly with some of Obama's legislative priorities. Among the students tapped are a senior who has relied on federal Pell Grants — a program dear to Obama — and a student studying medicine who is interested in finding ways to expand access to health care to under-served communities.
"I thought that UIC students should be at the forefront of this initiative, because that's what really separates us from any other university vying for the library," said Danielle Leibowitz, a UIC senior who persuaded administrators to send the group of students to Washington.
The University of Chicago, widely seen as the front-runner, on Friday touted plans to partner with a series of community groups and other organizations, so that the library would have an impact on some of the impoverished and violence-plagued neighborhoods surrounding the campus. The university is proposing three nearby off-campus sites for the library and museum, which they say would provide an economic boon for the community.
The university, however, has faced recent protests from a coalition of local groups over the university medical center's decision to close its adult trauma care unit in 1988. The neighborhoods surrounding the university have a disproportionate amount of the city's gun violence, and shooting victims on the South Side often have to be transferred to other parts of the city or the suburbs for urgent care.
The Obamas have deep ties to the university. The president worked there for 12 years as a senior lecturer at its law school, and the first lady served as an executive at the university's medical center.
Susan Sher, the former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, is directing the private university's bid for the library.
"It's a very engaged community with great ideas," Sher said a in call with reporters on Friday. "It's also an area, like many other urban areas, that has faced its challenges, and we believe it stands poised to make the very most of the promise a presidential library holds."
Chicago State University, which is in the heart of the South Side neighborhood where Obama worked as a community organizer in the 1980s, submitted its initial proposal late Friday afternoon.
Officials from the historically black university, which draws students from some of the city's most impoverished communities, said bringing the library to their campus would be a great reflection on Obama's values.
The area around Chicago State, which suffers from rampant unemployment and gun violence, could be resurrected by the economic jolt that would come from the hotels, restaurants and other economic development that would follow the library, university officials said.
"There's the greatest potential here for Barack Obama's hallmark change agenda to be realized," said Richard Darga, who is spearheading Chicago State's bid.
The University of Hawaii, the flagship state university in Obama's birth state, and Columbia University are also expected to submit their initial qualification documents by Monday, as is a private developer on Chicago's South Side.