Chicago embraces a favorite son as he bids farewell – Politico

CHICAGO — In an expansive McCormick Place hall teeming with some 18,000 people, the love for a president who was one of their own was palpable on Tuesday night.

If for one night, President Barack Obama was as close to a deity as this town has seen in recent history.

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Some of them waved flags or pounded bleachers, others hoisted children while some flat out wept in response to a farewell speech in the city where he launched his political career. By night’s end, the president himself would choke up during his emotional goodbye.

“I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s, still trying to figure out who I was; still searching for a purpose to my life,” Obama said to thunderous cheers. “It was in neighborhoods not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss. This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved, get engaged, and come together to demand it.”

Chicagoans and his supporters from surrounding counties and nearby states made clear they didn’t think eight years was enough.

“Four more years!” the crowd chanted early in Obama’s remarks.

While issues of violence have dogged the city, especially over the last several years, supporters on Tuesday were eager to give Obama a pass, instead pointing to the president’s work to lift the nation out of recession and pointing to positive employment numbers as he closes out his eight years.

Just this week, Obama gave a helping hand to the city where he still owns a home, giving a $1 billion grant to revamp critical public transportation that runs to the city’s South Side.

Supporters here expressed fears over the road ahead with President-elect Donald Trump and how he’ll handle issues such as race relations.

“It’s actually very bittersweet,” said Chimere Brown, who lives in the Loop. “I’m here to say ‘thank you.’ It’s saddening because he’s leaving office … I just hope Trump can be a president to all Americans.”

Brown and a group of friends enacted what they called a “plan of action” just to get tickets in the first place. That meant waking up at 4 a.m. on Saturday and heading directly to the McCormick Center. In line by 5:15 a.m., she walked away with an entry ticket.

She and friends arrived Tuesday at 1 p.m. — seven hours before Obama was to take the stage — just to secure a spot that was hundreds of people back.

For days, the farewell address was the most sought-after ticket in town. Thousands stood in line, braving bitter single digit temperatures just to find a way to gain entry. For those who couldn’t, a second-hand market arose quickly, with the free tickets going for $5,000 a pop. Some Chicagoans offered up their Hamilton tickets or TVs on social media in exchange for the tickets.

A slew of state Democratic lawmakers drove up from Springfield to witness the historic moment even though they had to turn right back around to be sworn into the next General Assembly on Wednesday morning.

Those with Obama since the beginning drove in from other states. They were there to see the goodbye, but also to relive the days when Obama fever swept over unlikely geographical areas.

Keidra King, who worked for the Obama campaign in 2008 and 2012, drove in from Louisville, Kentucky, to witness the goodbye. “It’s kind of coming full circle for me,” King said. “We’re really proud of this president and this administration.”

King said the evening was reminiscent of Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

“The unity and the love that you feel tonight is just amazing,” she said.

Nicole Yates, also a one-time volunteer who drove five and a half hours from New Albany, Indiana, recalled that Indiana “turned blue” for Obama.

“It’s so fitting for him to be here where it all started,” Yates said. “I’m thankful to have been a part of this and actually say I helped President Barack Obama get elected.”

Among the most notable crowd reactions came when the president talked about fighting terrorism without embracing fear. Then, the ethnically and racially diverse crowd erupted when he said this: “That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans,” Obama said.That’s why we cannot withdraw from global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights — no matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem.”

Obama punctuated the night by singling out first lady Michelle Obama, their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, and Vice President Joe Biden. The president choked up when he talked about his wife’s sacrifice and dedication.

The first lady, Malia, Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, joined the stage in an extended goodbye.


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