Northwestern, Evanston prepare for Obama’s visit


Tyler Pager/Daily Senior Staffer

U.S. Marine Corp MV-22 aircraft lands on the lakefill Monday afternoon as part of an exercise to prepare for the arrival of President Barack Obama on Thursday. Obama will give a speech on campus before returning to Washington.

Jeanne Kuang and Paige Leskin

As a sitting president prepares to visit campus for the first time in 60 years, Evanston and Northwestern officials are working closely with the White House to increase security and finalize the audience for Thursday’s speech.

President Barack Obama will tout his administration’s efforts to recover from the recession at 1:15 p.m. in Cahn Auditorium, a venue that seats more than 1,000.

The audience will include White House guests, Evanston officials, undergraduate students and graduate students from the Kellogg School of Management and The Graduate School, University spokesman Al Cubbage said.

NU students will not be able purchase or reserve tickets to the speech, Cubbage said. An undisclosed number of undergraduate and graduate students were chosen to attend the event. Kellogg will host a lottery to select students who will attend the speech, Cubbage said.

Cubbage declined to comment on how the NU undergraduate and graduate students were chosen or why they were not selected via lottery.

“It was simply a matter of availability,” he said, noting there was a limited number of seats available for students.

The University asked some undergraduate student leaders to volunteer for the event, said Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president of student engagement. Multiple students confirmed they were notified Tuesday night they had been selected to volunteer for the speech.

“People who are selected will be at the event and get to hear the speech in person,” Howard said.

Howard said his office reached out to a “broad cross-section of student leaders from a number of student groups.”

The University will set up a live feed of Obama’s remarks at viewing locations across campus, including Technological Institute, the Jacobs Center, the McCormick Tribune Center and Norris University Center.

The speech will be livestreamed on the White House website.

On Tuesday, preparations for the event were underway on campus and in Evanston.

University and city officials have been working together for about a week in anticipation of the visit, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said.

Helicopters landed on The Lakefill on Monday afternoon as part of a police exercise. Cubbage confirmed Tuesday the exercise was performed in preparation for Obama’s arrival.

City officials notified residents Tuesday that traffic will be affected on Thursday.

Sheridan Road, between Hinman Avenue and Dartmouth Street, will be closed to traffic from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursday, according to a city news release. The area near Cahn Auditorium will be closed to the public.

Parts of Chicago Avenue, Foster Street, Emerson Street and Orrington Avenue will also be blocked off on Thursday, according to the news release.

“We’re looking forward to it. We’ll do everything we can to support the University to have it be a memorable occasion,” Bobkiewicz said.

Parking will also be restricted on the route for the president’s motorcade, Bobkiewicz said. Cars will be prohibited from parking on sections of Orrington Avenue, Foster Street and Emerson Street.

Evanston and University police have been working cooperatively with the Chicago Police Department, Illinois State Police and the U.S. Secret Service to provide security, Evanston police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said.

“We have to ensure the safety of the president … that extends beyond the Secret Service to us,” Parrott said. “That’s the utmost importance, that the president arrives safely, conducts his business and departs safely.”

NU and the White House surveyed a number of locations before deciding on Cahn Auditorium, Cubbage said, declining to comment on what other venues were considered.

NU Facilities Management, NU Information Technology and other University departments are involved in preparation for the event, Cubbage said.

This is the first time a sitting president has visited the University since then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower came in 1954. Bobkiewicz said Obama will be the ninth president or presidential candidate to come through the city, with a history extending back to Abraham Lincoln’s passage through Evanston in 1860 during his run for president.

“Not many communities around can trace their presidential visits back to Abraham Lincoln, but we can in Evanston,” he said.

Ally Mutnick contributed reporting.

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Twitter: @jeannekuang

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