David Axelrod to Open an Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago

David M. Axelrod, one of President Barack Obama’s top political advisors and a board member at the Harvard Institute of Politics, is planning to open a new Institute of Politics at his alma mater, the University of Chicago.

Inspired by the success of the Harvard IOP, the new group—for which Axelrod will serve as director—will aim to help young people explore careers in public service.

“We’ll be making the University of Chicago a top destination for newsmakers, political actors, people in the public arena,” said Axelrod in a conference call on Wednesday, adding that it is increasingly important to get fresh faces involved in politics “in a time of great cynicism.”

Although the new institute uses the Harvard IOP as a blueprint, Axelrod said it will have some distinct priorities, many of which are related to its location. In addition to giving Chicago a larger presence in national politics, the new institute hopes to place greater emphasis on “urban politics,” said Axelrod.

C. M. “Trey” Grayson ’94, the director of the Harvard IOP, believes that this direction could be beneficial to the new institution’s growth and identity.

“Harvard’s IOP reflects a very national and international focus,” said Grayson. “You’ve got the challenges that nations face, and also the problems that urban youth face in terms of issues like schools and transportation.”

The institute is not scheduled to open until January 2013, and because Axelrod still faces the substantial hurdle of the 2012 presidential election, its programming is a work in progress.

But following what he refers to as “the last campaign,” Axelrod hopes that he will be able to put aside the competitive work of national election strategy and make his new IOP “studiously nonpartisan or multipartisan.”

Axelrod said that he will step down from the Harvard IOP board at the end of 2012, and make this new institute his main priority.

Another area in which the Chicago IOP has standout potential, Grayson said, is its close association with Obama. Axelrod said the new IOP will “look for ways to create synergy” with Obama, perhaps through housing all or part of the future Obama Presidential Library.

In addition to the close ties Axelrod and Obama share, Obama served as an Illinois state senator in a district that includes part of the University of Chicago and taught at the University of Chicago Law School.

The institute already has a number of recognizable public figures as board members, including historian Dorris Kearns Goodwin, Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick ’78, and New York Times columnist David Brooks. Axelrod hopes that this star power will lead to high levels of student involvement.

“My goal right now is to help encourage young people who are going to be, you know, the David Axelrods and better of the future,” he said.

—Staff writer Ethan G. Loewi can be reached at ethanloewi@college.harvard.edu.

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