Dollars and nonsense in Jackson Park

To the Editor:

In the beginning the thought of protecting Jackson Park seemed a no brainer. Who could not understand the need and value of providing “open, clear and free” public parks in a crowded metropolitan city. In Chicago who could be blind to the miracle of having created a 26-mile-long lakefront public park system. With a 125-year history of Jackson Park being the world famous masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, who could be so insensitive and brutish as to want to deface it with an invasive 235-foot-tall tower.

In all the hype and debate about the City arbitrarily trying to seize control of this dedicated and historic public park to enable construction of an incongruous Obama Center, never understood or mentioned by the Park District and Mayor Emanuel is that this public park is not just another ordinary property awaiting private development. It is both a Chicago lake front jewel, and a much-needed amenity to serve the inner-city neighborhoods of the South Side and provide needed outdoor recreational uses and a place of nature to escape city congestion, noise, pollution, and disorder.

When Protect Our Parks filed its lawsuit, because no one else had risen to the challenge, and brought to public attention all the obvious legal objections to the defendants’ land-flipping maneuvers, the integrity-challenged mayor called the lawsuit frivolous. Yet, today, as the lawsuit is proceeding to a significant court ruling on February 14, 2019 (Valentines Day), he has mobilized five of the largest law firms in Chicago with their hundreds of highly paid lawyers to oppose and overwhelm POP’s limited resources. POP has only three lawyers on the case.

In researching and preparing the lawsuit, POP has, of course, reached out to the many existing nature and historic preservation interest groups to join the effort to protect Jackson Park. It would seem be the natural thing to do.

You know, they are the ones that are constantly fundraising to support their bureaucratic world. In a word, their response has been “bupkis”, nothing. In a world of championing environmental protection, lobbying for protective laws, and seeking government grants, the astounding, disturbing excuse of these groups has been that “they do not get involved in politics.”

This is especially disturbing because in a free country there isn’t anything “political” about simply seeking to enforce the existing law as it is written and, under the protection of the Constitution, when necessary, seeking to stop the wrongdoing of a petty local government. It is shocking because it has exposed an institutional fear in these groups of incurring the wrath and retaliation of the mayor and his people if they cannot be bought off.

Defendants, and their sycophants, say “why complain,” the billion-dollar Obama Foundation only wants a little piece (19.3 acres) of Jackson Park. Although in the small print are hidden provisions that further changes can be made to accommodate the Center. It is reminiscent of the gallows humor of World War II. The Nazis say they only want peace in Europe, a piece of Poland, a piece of France, a piece of Russia, a piece of England.

Never mentioned, and rarely accurately described in media stories, is that POP does not oppose construction of an Obama Center anywhere it chooses as long as it is NOT in a valuable, much-needed, heavily used, dedicated and legally protected historic landmarked public park. The defendants need only agree to relocate the proposed Obama Center to any of the many superior existing and available South Side sites in neighborhoods needing investment and development, where former President Obama had once been a community organizer, and POP would immediately voluntarily dismiss its lawsuit and join in supporting and

promoting the Obama Center in a place where, with a Community Benefits Agreement, it would benefit the people living and working there, and achieve a result without dispute that would not only greatly contribute to the legacy of the former President, but also serve the public interest of the city and the state.

That would be a worthy accomplishment that is neither “frivolous” nor “political.”

That would also be something even Mayor Emanuel would turn back to in his retirement and claim deserved credit.


Herbert L. Caplan