For Emanuel, risk hosting summit ‘will pay off’
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporterfirstname.lastname@example.org May 21, 2012 8:34PM
5/21/12 Chicago A protestor talk with police as they change their route during the protest during the NATO summit in Chicago on Monday, May 21st. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
- The NATO Summit: Complete coverage, videos, photos
- Photos: NATO protesters rally outside Obama campaign headquarters
Updated: July 2, 2012 8:37AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel had the most to lose from the NATO summit — having stuck his neck out to get it and squeezed business leaders to spend $36.5 million to fund it — and he appears to have emerged from Chicago’s dance on the world stage relatively unscathed.
“A lot of people were irritated by all the inconvenience. But in the perspective of time, he will come off looking rather well in comparison to the mayor of Seattle, who lost his re-election bid because of disturbances” tied to the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting, said former independent alderman Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“We were able to host world leaders. It came off well. It heightens Chicago’s image and shows that we have come out from the cloud of 1968. It looks like we’ve grown up past that period of confrontation in our history.”
Despite the ugly image of baton-wielding Chicago Police officers squaring off against the protesters who tried to provoke them, Emanuel’s administration is getting high marks for its preparation and performance during the NATO summit.
Snow plows were used as an imposing blue barrier to keep protesters at bay. Bicycles purchased for the summit and strategically used by police gave new meaning to Emanuel’s vow to make Chicago the nation’s most bike-friendly city.
Police officers well-equipped, well-trained and smartly instructed to turn the other cheek kept arrests and confrontations to a minimum.
And if it weren’t for the “Black Bloc” of anarchists hell-bent on destruction, the city’s painstaking negotiations with at least three major groups of protesters would likely have resulted in precisely what the U.S. Constitution guarantees: the peaceful exercise of First Amendment rights.
“I can’t tell you how pleased we are,” the mayor’s chief-of-staff Theresa Mintle said Monday.
“From the nurses on Friday to the protest [against mental health clinic closures] at the mayor’s house on Saturday to the Iraqi war veterans on Sunday, they were all very respectful. It was those other folks who ruined it for everybody else — literally a handful.”
Her boss went a step further.
Emanuel compared the NATO Summit to the 1893 Columbian Exposition and said it showed “While Chicago has the title of ‘Second City,’ because of the NATO summit, we have shown the world that we are a world-class, first-class city.
“If Seattle in 1999 was a lesson of what not to do, I think Chicago will be a lesson of what to do,” the mayor said. “Our police department did a tremendous job over four days, and they handled themselves with incredible discipline and professionalism.”
Nobody gained more personally from the summit than Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, who emerged as somewhat of a rock star.
Dressed in his uniformed white shirt, tie, pants and hat with no helmet or body armor, McCarthy stood on the front lines calling the shots like a football coach calling plays from the sidelines.
If there was any lingering resentment about McCarthy’s New York pedigree, it was washed away by the cool demeanor he showed and apparently learned while doing the same at New York’s Ground Zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It wasn’t just his presence alone at the NATO protests. It was his delegation of authority and his support of the troops standing ten feet in front of him,” said Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields, crediting McCarthy with stepping up NATO training and purchasing more face shields for officers in response to union concerns.
“He did an amazing job in leading a group of Chicago Police officers in serious riot circumstances. Our officers did not engage with protesters going overboard, taunting and ridiculing our officers. They remained professional. I hope the public remembers that professionalism during our contract negotiations and during pension reform talks.”
For many Chicagoans, the most enduring image of the summit will be the half-empty trains and buses they rode to work or the Friday and Monday they stayed home because the companies they work for closed their doors.
That makes it tough to imagine how Chicago can possibly cash in on the $128 million short-term boost to the local economy predicted by a NATO Host Committee consultant.
“If you try to argue the post-mortem strictly on dollars, you’ll probably come up short. When you consider the real cost of shutting down business and closing the city, the cost probably exceeds the immediate direct benefit,” said Donald Haider, the former Chicago budget director and mayoral candidate now serving as a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
But, he said, “I’m not one to jump in and say the whole thing was a disaster. ... The benefits of this have to be the intangibles because that was one of the primary purposes: marketing Chicago and opening up Chicago to a prestigious international audience in a way that can lead to tangible long-term benefits: foreign visitation; foreign investment and eliminating a legacy we still have from 1968.”
Marc Gordon, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, said the gathering of world leaders gave Chicago “exposure it desperately needs” to bolster international tourism.
“I went to the party and there were so many delegates who said, ‘Gee, I never realized how beautiful and wonderful and clean the city is,’” Gordon said.
“Hopefully, that will translate when they go back to their countries, talk about Chicago, and we get future visits. In that sense, it definitely was worth it.”
The city’s costs for overtime, equipment and operations have not yet been tabulated. But, City Hall is sticking to its long-standing claim that the $36.5 million raised from corporate donors and the $19.1 million in federal security grants identified for reimbursement will be enough to keep Chicago taxpayers off the hook — even if summit arrests trigger another round of lawsuits against the city.
Ald. Joe Moore (49th) said Chicago “stood head and shoulders above” Seattle and Pittsburgh after similar gatherings of world leaders.
“There was obviously a risk hosting this summit, but the risk will pay off in terms of increased stature for the city and increased stature for Rahm Emanuel,” Moore said.
“I was impressed by the fact that Supt. McCarthy was there on the ground watching his officers’ backs — literally. That certainly helped the morale of his troops and made them aware they were being watched and had to behave accordingly — and they did under trying circumstances.”