White House Intrigue Developing over Obama Library

Image: White House Intrigue Developing over Obama Library President Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett

Tuesday, 17 Dec 2013 01:56 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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A royal palace-style intrigue seems to be developing around the creation of President Barack Obama's presidential library and foundation when he leaves office, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this year it appeared as though veteran Obama staff member Alyssa Mastromonaco was the front-runner for the "plum task" of helping shape the president's historic legacy.

But strong whispers around the White House intimate that Valerie Jarrett, who played matchmaker for the Obamas and is the last surviving member of his original advisers, has taken over the reins of the project.

With the likelihood that many White House stalwarts will be swept out after a new president takes office in January 2017, the chance of becoming the creative force behind the next chapter of Obama's life is very alluring.

Apart from possibly guaranteeing a job for many years to come, with Obama being such a young president, the position would also come with a string of perks, including working with powerful organizations, dealing with wealthy donors, and enjoying the travel and conference circuit, says the Times.

Marty Nesbitt, a Chicago investor and longtime Obama patron, has apparently already teamed up with Julianna Smoot, the president’s chief fundraiser and former deputy campaign manager, to reach out to potential donors, while Anita Dunn, Obama’s former communications director, is preparing the media strategy.

The equivalent of a bidding war has already erupted between various states, with Obama's birthplace Hawaii, his adopted state of Illinois, and even New York, where he lived for two years as an undergraduate, all vying to have his library built in their backyards. The estimated cost of the project is more than $500 million.

"I’m going to make sure that the city of Chicago is well positioned,” Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, told the Times about his plan for “a world-class library” in his city.

He added, “We’re not just relying on the family historical foundations, that this is where he launched his public life, where his wife’s from and the hometown where his kids were educated, though I’m happy to remind him of it."

James L. Rutherford, the dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, who was influential in creating the Clinton library in Little Rock, Arkansas, said whoever ends up organizing Obama's library and foundation will have a legacy of their own.

"A presidential library is you forever, and I’m not talking about the president, I’m talking about the staffer,” said Rutherford. “It’s not a just a presidential legacy, it’s a place for your time and your experience in that administration.”

The Times said the White House has rejected the notion that there's "any internal tension" over Obama's legacy, insisting that officials are concerned about more urgent issues facing the administration.

"This is a project that isn’t even at its inception yet,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. “The priority of everyone . . . is to focus on achieving the president’s second-term priorities over the next three years.”

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