Now, after four months of living in Washington and jet-setting around the world, President Barack Obama’s dream of returning to his hometown every six to eight weeks has met reality. And Chicago is sort of like the high school girlfriend of a guy who headed off to college — he promised to keep in touch, but the calls tapered off and the letters stopped coming.
Obama has been back to Chicago just once since moving to D.C. in January. That was for Valentine’s Day, more than three months ago. Since then, the president has sought refuge at Camp David a few times. And he skipped over the Windy City again when settling on a place to retreat to over Memorial Day. He'll be spending the weekend at Camp David — which is sort of like the new, cooler college girlfriend.
Aides say the logistics of returning to Chicago have proven trickier than Obama thought. After all, he has a demanding job, and a wife and kids who also keep busy schedules. Sasha and Malia Obama have weekend soccer games, a new swing-set, a new puppy and new friends. Michelle Obama has her own schedule, which sometimes involves weekend commitments, such as last Saturday, when she delivered a commencement address in California.
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Asked about the president’s scant visits to Chicago, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “Trying to coordinate everybody’s schedule and ensuring that as you get the girls into a routine, as you get the different commitments that each of them have, it’s just been harder to find time to do that.”
As much as Obama feels a connection to Chicago, he’s got an economy to fix, two wars to oversee and a Supreme Court vacancy to fill back in Washington.
In fact, there’s been some speculation that Obama will be conducting interviews with potential nominees at Camp David this weekend. The White House hasn't confirmed that but did say he would take some briefing materials along and work on the selection over the weekend.
But if there ever was a place where Obama could interview Supreme Court candidates away from the prying eyes of the press corps, it would be Camp David.
There’s just one main road at the isolated country retreat in nearby Maryland.
Guests can come and go without notice. Obama can move around out of the public eye and without a security detail tailing his every move. His family can enjoy the grounds freely, too. And the press corps that would follow him to Chicago — and always maintains a presence at the White House — stays back in Washington.
Security around Obama’s Hyde Park neighborhood, where the homes are fairly close together, gets even tighter when he’s in town. And traffic gets ensnarled whenever he makes a movement — to the gym at his friend's apartment complex or to dinner with his wife.
But for Obama, it’s still home. In December, Obama called Chicago his Kennebunkport, home of the Bush family estate, and he told the Chicago Tribune that he planned to return to his hometown every six weeks or so.
“Let me explain to you, my Kennebunkport is on the South Side of Chicago. We own one piece of property, and that is our home in Chicago. It is 10 minutes away from where Michelle grew up and where her mother still has a house,” Obama said.
“Our friends are here. Our family is here. And so we are going to try to come back here as often as possible. My expectation would be that, depending on what my schedule looks like, you know, we're going to try to get back here at least once every six weeks or couple months.”
When Obama finally left Chicago for Washington on Jan. 4, he told reporters on he flight that his last moments in his Hyde Park home were bittersweet.
“I gotta say — I choked up a little bit leaving my house today,” Obama said.
“Malia's friend had dropped off an album of the two of them together,” he continued. “They had been friends since preschool, and I just looked through the pages, and the house was empty and it was a little tough. It got me.”
In Washington, Obama keeps up his Chicago allegiance, especially when it comes to sports. The Bulls visited him at the White House in February, and he sat courtside with fellow Chicagoan Marty Nesbitt at one of their games against the Wizards.
The White Sox's most famous fan never misses an opportunity to tout his favorite baseball team. When the Phillies were at the White House last week, Obama empathized with the players that won Philadelphia its first championship in more than a quarter century.
“I also know how it felt for the Phillies to get this weight off their back,” Obama said, “because my beloved White Sox finally did it three years ago after nearly 90 years of waiting. So Cubs fans out there, take heart — anything is possible.”
And if he misses Chicago, surely Chicagoans miss him back. Even Rick Bayless, the owner of one of the Obamas' favorite restaurants, Topolobampo, said through an e-mail that he misses having the first couple in his dining room, but understands the president is busy.
There was talk that the Obamas would return to Chicago when Sasha, 7, and Malia, 10, were on spring break in late March. But the first family went to Camp David instead, skipping out on the Gridiron Dinner.
Perhaps they were too smitten with the mountainous place.
"It was just wonderful to get a bit of a break and to spend some quality time as a family in nature," Michelle Obama said in a speech at the Interior Department after returning.
The president told reporters his daughters had "a great time" and that he got to play basketball and hit some golf balls.
"You can see that during the summer it’s going to be a nice place to spend a lot of time," Obama said.
So, with summer fast approaching, will Obama be back at the Midwestern White House?
“I know that he’s anxious to do it,” said Gibbs. “We talked about it coming up, but I don’t know that they’ve made any progress on that.”