Presidential library: Will it be Chicago or Honolulu?

The battle is on between Illinois and Hawaii for the right to host President Obama's library.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Both the cities of Chicago, Ill. and Honolulu, Hawaii say they have strong claims for the right to host President Barack Obama's library.

The latest literary feud pits the windy city of Chicago against the island paradise of Honolulu. And never before have two cities fought so bitterly over which gets to host... a library. 

Of course, it’s not just any library. It’s a presidential library.

That’s right, though the end of President Obama’s term is four long years away, Chicago and Honolulu have already begun to mount ambitious campaigns to convince the president to house his presidential library in their respective cities.

And boy, are they trying. At least one of the campaigns sounds more like a pitch for a luxury vacation resort than a library.

Honolulu is attempting to woo the president with a $75 million plot of “oceanfront property on a rocky peninsula in the last undeveloped part of urban Honolulu,” according to the AP.

The state legislature has apparently already passed two resolutions urging Obama to house his library in Hawaii, with one calling it “a matter of great state pride that President Obama is the first Hawaii-born citizen to hold that high office.”

And it’s building a case. Officials in the Aloha state argue the library should be built in Honolulu because the president was born there, the city attracts millions of tourists, and the site would be a fitting symbol of Obama’s foreign policy focus on the Asia-Pacific region, according to the AP.

So confident are officials there that representatives from the University of Hawaii have visited almost all of the 13 official presidential libraries across the country to explore establishing one in Honolulu. 

Chicago, meanwhile, is not taking it lying down.

Officials there say the Windy City is the obvious choice: Obama’s career-shaping days as a community organizer were forged there, as was his political career as a state senator and a US Senator representing Illinois. What’s more, the president was a law professor at the University of Chicago, First Lady Michelle Obama grew up in Chicago, and the family has their home in the city’s South Side, which is pushing hard for the honor.

City officials have pinpointed several potential locations, including the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital in the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood near the University of Chicago as well as a former US Steel South Works site along Lake Michigan.

Obama has stayed out of the debate so far – “It is a tough choice, but it’s not one that I’ve made yet,” he said last month – but Politico reports that Chicago is “the heavy favorite.” 

Our favorite? The fact that a library is getting so much attention at all. In our book, at least, it’s a win-win situation.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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