Ronald Reagan once famously quipped: "Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."
Now, David Axelrod, once the senior advisor to President Obama and a strategist for both his campaigns, is heading the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, where its students will study the ages-old profession and its workings.
Axelrod, a University of Chicago alum, and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro — who, you may remember, gave the keynote speech at last year's Democratic National Convention — made an appearance in the quaint but cosmopolitan Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park, blocks from Obama's home, for the institute's official opening.
Castro is one of institute's 15-member board of directors, which also includes as a member Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
At a reception following the ribbon cutting, near what appeared to be schmoozing students and curious fellow members of the press, I had a few minutes to exchange words with Axelrod and Castro about Obama's home neighborhood, the institute, and Chicago and national politics.
Below are some of their answers to my questions (also, for BREAKING NEWS, skip below to read Julian Castro's latest denial that he will run for president in 2016, or click here to read the full story and interview on the Hyde Park Herald's website):
Hyde Park Herald: Do you have anything to say about the closing of some [Chicago] schools?
David Axelrod: I think that we are faced with a difficult choice. We have a looming billion-dollar deficit for the school system and the question becomes, do you invest in half-empty schools or do you try and aggregate your resources and provide the best possible education for the kids. These are painful choices, but they're choices that have to be made. And the fundamental yardstick has to be, "Is a child getting the best education they can get?" That's the obligation we as adults have to these children and in order to do that we have to be as wise as we can with the resources we have.
HPH: Do you attribute some of the interest in development in Hyde Park to the rise of Obama's political career?
DA: I don't know whether that's the case or not, but I do think that the president has inspired a lot of young people to look, to take a second look at engagement in politics, and hopefully some of that will rub off on the IOP, and perhaps one day he'll come back and spend some time with us here. But without question, he has engaged a lot of young people. We want to engage him and frankly, across the political spectrum not just Democrats, but Republicans, unaffiliated, we need them all. We need talented young people in the public arena. Hopefully this will be the beginning for a lot of that.
HPH: What do you think is the biggest political issue that Chicagoans and Chicago politicians face right now?
Well obviously this is a difficult time in Chicago and the state, because of the tremendous pressures on our budgets that [are] largely related to pension costs that put enormous downward pressure on a lot of other needed programs in the city of Chicago. You know, public education remains a fundamental challenge that we have to meet, and related to that is our high rates of crime in some of our communities. And, so, these are vital issues. We’re going to discuss them here. We gotta work through them as a community.
HPH: How did you become involved with the Institute of Politics?
Julian Castro: In early November David Axelrod reached out to me and asked if I'd be interested in serving on the board and of course I'm excited to do so [and] lend any voice of support and perspective that I can.
HPH: What do you think Obama says about this neighborhood and the neighborhood says about him?
JC: This neighborhood is fantastically diverse with...ideas, perspectives, and that says a lot to us, not just about him but about the country. This neighborhood is known throughout the nation and the world, of course because of the university, but also because of [the] [inaudible] thinking that happens here, which is great.
HPH: Any word on a 2016 run?
JC: [Laughs] Who, I? Me? No, I'm not going to. But it'll be great to see all of that as it bubbles on.