There was a tear in the eye of Charles Davies, a powerfully built African-American man from Chicago’s southside, as he watched the scenes of growing crowds at the Mall in Washington Tuesday morning on a giant screen in downtown Chicago.
“I don’t know if it’s emotion or just the cold,” he laughed, as a heavy snowfall rained down on the bundled-up Chicagoans gathered to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama – the first US president from the US’s third-biggest city.
“I cannot describe to you how significant this day is – coming just after Martin Luther King day – both for black folks and for the whole city of Chicago,” said Mr Davies. “I think African-American Chicagoans are walking around a little taller today.”
In recent months, Chicago has drawn attention focus for corruption allegations against Rod Blagojevich, its governor, and for the controversy surrounding his appointment of Roland Burris as Illinois’ new Senator.
Tuesday, however, was a day for Chicagoans to be unabashedly proud of their political ties. With repeated parallels being drawn in recent days between Mr Obama and Abraham Lincoln, the last president from Illinois, the world has been reminded of the state’s finest political sons rather than its historic reputation for graft.
“We’ve had a lot of unwelcome news in recent months,” says Christine, a white woman who lives in Chicago’s western suburbs. “Barack represents the positive, the optimistic side of Chicago. Congratulations to all of us!”
Chicago is more than just “Obama’s backyard”. Last year, the city enjoyed its few months in the international spotlight as the home of the president’s transition team. Now it hopes that it will continue to build its positive image.
For a start, residents of the city are still expecting to see a fair amount of the president. Given the security problems of protecting the head of state in an urban environment, Chicago is unlikely to hold the status for the Obamas that Crawford, Texas did for the Bushes. Nevertheless, there is some anticipation that the first family will return regularly.
Secondly, the city and the state of Illinois are looking forward to an unprecedented level of clout within the new administration. Most of Mr Obama’s inner White House circle is made up of Chicago figures such as Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod and Austan Goolsbee. His cabinet includes Illinoisians such as Arne Duncan, education secretary and Ray LaHood, transport secretary.
Perhaps even more critical for Chicago businesses that want to influence the new administration’s thinking, many lower-level staffers are expected to come from the city. Mr LaHood and Mr Duncan have already appointed senior staff from Chicago.
That may translate into more federal funds flowing to the city. “We’ll have what we had in the Kennedy and Johnson eras – open lines between the mayor’s office and the White House,” says Don Rose, a political analyst in Chicago. “Historically, presidents have tended to secure more money for their home states – which could mean more funding for local transport and education – especially with Illinoisians running those departments.”