CHICAGo — There’s no place like home for President Obama.
After a fairly rotten week in Washington, the president bolted the Beltway and crashed a night at his old digs in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the Windy City for the first time in 14 months.
He awoke Saturday morning with the sun shining. There was nothing on his schedule. So he took a walk to the home of good friend Martin Nesbitt, his 2008 campaign treasurer and a pickup basketball game regular.
Nesbitt lives only four blocks away, but for the embattled president it might have been a walk he hoped would never end.
The president’s trip home was planned long ago — part of a marathon day Friday during which Obama attended six fundraisers in Minneapolis and Chicago and added about $5.5 million to his campaign coffers. But the timing was fortuitous, coming as it did on the same day that the Labor Department released a dismal employment report that showed the American economy adding just 69,000 jobs in May, well below expectations.
“We have a lot work to do to get where we need to be,” he told a crowd during a stop at a manufacturing facility in Golden Valley, Minn., where he pressed Congress to support his economic agenda before heading to the first three of his fundraisers in that state.
The jobs report was a disappointing bookend to a week that got off to the wrong start when Obama got into hot water with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Polish Americans when he mistakenly referred to “Polish death camps” while awarding the Medal of Freedom posthumously to Jan Karski, a freedom fighter during World War II.
Obama wrote a letter of regret to Tusk, after aides said the president had misspoken about the Nazi-operated concentration camps in Poland.
The president’s week also included playing White House host to his predecessor, George W. Bush, for the unveiling of Bush’s formal portrait and enduring a reception with Bush-era advisers, including Karl Rove.
At least, the Chicago trip afforded the president a chance to bask in the warm embrace of his hometown. One fundraiser was at the South Loop brownstone of Chicago lawyer Chaka Patterson, and another was at the Gold Coast home of Jim Crown, president of Henry Crown and Co., a privately owned investment business.
Last month, when Obama arrived in Chicago for the two-day NATO summit, he told reporters that his security detail declined to let him stay at his house because of logistical concerns that would snarl traffic, so he bunked at a hotel instead.
Not that his appearance Friday did rush-hour commuters any favors, shutting down the local freeways several times.
“Whoever organized this didn’t understand the geography of Chicago,” Obama complained good-naturedly at Patterson’s house. “I came south, now I’m going to have to go back north. And then I go home back south.”
At the Chicago Cultural Center, former chiefs of staff Bill Daley, now a campaign co-chairman, and Rahm Emanuel, now Chicago’s mayor, were on hand, as was Chicago financier John Rogers Jr.
Emanuel introduced the president before 350 supporters, who got warmed up on Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” playing through the loudspeakers. Emanuel asked the crowd to remember what it was like when Obama walked into the Oval Office three and a half years ago, with the “worst economy since the Great Depression.”
“Through the sheer force of will of this one man” the economy is growing again, Emanuel continued.
Obama took the stage to hearty cheers. “It is good to be back home,” he said. “I am sleeping in my bed tonight. I’m going to go into my kitchen; I might cook something for myself, putter around in the backyard a little bit. . . . The White House is nice, but I’m just leasing.”
By midday Saturday, the time had come to return to Washington. Upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, however, Obama didn’t head right back to the White House.
He was scheduled to spend Sunday night at Camp David.