Obama´s Chicago

His close connection to our sister city

It is commonly known that the new President of the United States, Barack Obama, is from our sister city Chicago. But did you know that not only the President himself, but also several of his secretaries are originally from Chicago or are linked to this city in a special way?

To Hamburg´s citizens, this is of particular interest, since Chicago and Hamburg have been sister cities for 15 years now and due to the fact that the U.S. election has been in the media all around the world during the past months, Obama´s connection to Chicago must have been blazed abroad.


After spending almost 25 years of his life in Chicago, Barack Obama´s biography is closely linked to it. Of course, Chicago´s citizens showed exceptional support to their wellknown fellow citizen during the election campaign. When he had finally been elected President, congratulatory banners were put up all over Chicago, which demonstrated how proud Mayor Richard M. Daley and the Chicago citizens were (and still are) of their most famous citizen at this time. Besides this, in many respects the city of Chicago must be very special/significant to Obama, since he spent about half of his life there. Accordingly, many important events and adventures of his life took place in Hamburg´s sister city Chicago.

First arriving in Chicago in 1985, he started to work as a community organizer, where he (amongst other things) removed asbestos from old buildings for Altgeld Gardens public housing development on the South Side of Chicago. He wanted to improve the African-American people´s living conditions in this neighborhood and bring change to their lives. Obama was elated to come to Chicago by Jerry Kellman who also worked for Altgeld and who still remembers how Obama „fell in love with Chicago“ because „it was the first time he lived in and loved an African-American community“. Moreover, Kellman says that Obama´s years on the South Side were „probably the most formative years shaping him politically“. Already, Obama was longing for change in the social surroundings, even though this was to a lesser degree than he is seeking to accomplish now. His early aim to change something in the lives of poor South Side Chicagoans became his „Change“ motto in his presidential campaign.

Although he temporarily left the city in order to study law at Harvard Law School between 1988 and 1992, he remained connected to Chicago since he returned for the summers and worked for different law fi rms. During one of these internships he met his future wife Michelle Robinson, who was allotted/“assigned“ the job to be Obama´s mentor during his internship. Not surprisingly, they got married in Chicago a few years later. At that time, Obama had already found his first job as a lawyer in Chicago, which was at the law offices of Miner Barnhill & Galland. The fact that the Obamas bought a condominium in Chicago near the shores of Lake Michigan shows that they felt comfortable about living in this city and raising their children there.

Obama´s close connection to Chicago is also shown by the fact that he still has his hair cut by the same barber who even „travels“ to Obama, if he is too busy and not able to see him in the barbershop in Chicago.

Obama´s election campaign was of course coordinated from Chicago, where his national campaign headquarters inhabited one whole floor with 33,000 square feet. Due to campaigning all over the United States, Obama did not spend much time in Chicago prior to the election. But he sustained his ties to this city, since this was still his home where his family still lived in their house that they had bought in 2006.

Only about four weeks after the inauguration Obama showed his strong ties to Chicago again when he welcomed the Chicago Bulls basketball team at the White House. The President of the United States is also a fan of the Chicago White Sox.

Above all, it is remarkable that Obama seemed to be confident to achieve his aim to be the first presidential nominee from Chicago to win the election and the third Illinois candidate after President Abraham Lincoln and Adlai E. Stevenson.

As it has been mentioned above, many of Obama´s secretaries and staff members are linked to Chicago. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was born in Park Ridge, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. Her childhood there is said to have been a happy and disciplined one.

Besides her, the Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, was born in Chicago. He went to Northwestern University and his family still lives there. Among other occupations, he was the senior adviser and fundraiser for Chicago´s Mayor Richard M. Daley, when he was campaigning.

Another important person in Obama´s political/business environment is Jon Favreau, whom Obama named his Director of Speechwriting. This young staff member lived in a shared house in Chicago with six friends before becoming Obama´s „mind reader“, as he is often called.

Obama´s Senior Adviser David Axelrod has probably been one of the most important people during his election campaign, since he had practical experience in campaigning and had been successful in 2006, when he helped Deval Patrick to become Massachusett´s first African-American governor. As all the others already named above, Axelrod is connected with our sister city: firstly, he studied political science at the University of Chicago, where he later also gave lectures on political media. Like Obama, when he was removing asbestos from old buildings for Altgeld gardens public housing development, Axelrod is still active in charitable work in Chicago raising money for his charitable foundation CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy). Moreover, Axelrod´s connection to Chicago can be backed up by the fact that he wrote about poltitical issues for The Chicago Tribune over a period of eight years.

Last, but certainly not least, Obama´s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has a close connection to Hamburg´s sister city since he grew up in Chicago and has since contributed to its educational system. Before he was named Secretary of Education he was education superintendent of Chicago´s Public Schools for seven years. Not only was he honored by the Civic Federation of Chicago and the Anti-Defamation League for his contributions to the improvement of Chicago´s public schools in 2008, he also was named Citizen of the Year by the City Club of Chicago in 2006.

To summarize, we can realize that with the election of the new President of the United States, our sister city Chicago has been put in the spotlight of public interest as both the President and several of his secretaries and staff members have gained much of their political and life experience there.

Ebony. Collector´s Edition. Mr. President. Person of the Year. January 2009, pp. 64-68.
Vanity Fair. March 2009, pp. 138-153.

www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/fashion/20speechwriter.html (Jon Favreau)
www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/115321.htm (Hillary Clinton)
www.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/duncan.html (Arne Duncan)
www.whitehouse.gov/administration/staff/rahm-emanuel/ (Rahm Emanuel)
www.whitehouse.gov/administration/staff/david-axelrod/ (David Axelrod)