Before Farewell Speech, Chicagoans Reflect On President Obama's Legacy Chicago got a chance to celebrate the victory of Barack Obama's election to the presidency twice. Now, as he delivers his farewell speech, residents reflect on what he meant for their city.

Before Farewell Speech, Chicagoans Reflect On President Obama's Legacy

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Now to Chicago. It's President Obama's adopted hometown and the stage for many big moments in his career.




CORNISH: He claimed victory there in 2008, again in 2012. And in Chicago tonight, he'll give a farewell address. NPR's Cheryl Corley asked Chicagoans what Barack Obama's presidency meant for them and the city they share.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Pride - that's a word many Chicagoans use when talking about Barack Obama. You can hear it in their voices. Kim Chisholm stood with thousands of others in the bitter cold this weekend to get a ticket to Obama's speech.

KIM CHISHOLM: I'm so excited. History in the making. I never made it to the White House, but I will see him here in Chicago.

CORLEY: Chicago officials will tell you there are pluses and minuses to having such close ties to the Obama administration. Yesterday, the city won a federal grant, nearly a billion dollars to upgrade a major portion of the city's elevated commuter rail line.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Argyle is next.

CORLEY: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's first White House chief of staff, worked to make sure the funding came through before the administration changed hands.


RAHM EMANUEL: This will, over the next four years, create 6,000 jobs in the city of Chicago.

CORLEY: Illinois senior U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says the city's been able to make significant infrastructure improvements with the help of federal funds, including high-speed rail and O'Hare airport upgrades.


DICK DURBIN: Time and again, the Obama administration has not forgotten where he came from, has not forgotten the city of Chicago.

CORLEY: In part because the administration included a bevy of Chicagoans as Cabinet members and advisers, like former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, advisers Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Tonight's speech and talk about an Obama legacy in Chicago is much more personal for some. Jacky Grimshaw worked in Chicago government under Harold Washington, the city's first black mayor, and was Obama's next-door neighbor for years. She says the country's first black president faced the same sort of opposition that Harold Washington did, and both prevailed.

JACKY GRIMSHAW: And he put through the stimulus package that allowed communities across the country to, you know, deal with infrastructure projects that needed to get done.

CORLEY: Some community organizers take a more nuanced stance. Jitu Brown says while the president conducts himself with grace, he disagrees with many of his administration's education policies.

JITU BROWN: And I think the disappointment is in, you know, a president who started as a community organizer. I would've really hoped there would've been space to really listen to the voices of the people directly impacted.

CORLEY: At Valois Restaurant not far from the president's Chicago home, customers can order a variety of Obama specials on the menu.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Unintelligible) Bacon and sausage omelet.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: How do you like your eggs?

CORLEY: In this city where President-elect Trump only got 12 percent of the vote, admiration for President Obama is strong. Kimberly Barnes Staples was eating breakfast with her husband.

KIMBERLY BARNES STAPLES: For Chicago specifically, he gave us a national profile. He showcased who we are as Chicagoans. He made us proud.

CORLEY: And Devi Austin, a retiree, says she personally benefited from policies President Obama advanced.

DEVI AUSTIN: Because of the laws that he put in place for people who had just bought homes and was underwater, I got forgiven - forgiven, not modified - forgiven $60,000. I will miss President Obama.

CORLEY: While some Chicagoans express disappointment that the president didn't provide more help to deal with gun violence and gangs, others give him a pass, saying that's a problem for the mayor, not the president. So tonight, as President Obama says farewell, Patty McNamara, a museum consultant, says she'll be watching wistfully.

PATTY MCNAMARA: It's kind of bittersweet. You know, it's going to be a tough transition, I'm afraid.

CORLEY: There will be a tangible Obama legacy for Chicagoans, though. His presidential library and foundation will be built on Chicago's South Side. That means that even if the Obamas don't return to live here, the president will remain engaged in the city that gave him his political start. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.


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