Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

On January 26, the activist organization Adbusters, which helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement, called for at least 50,000 “redeemers, rebels and radicals” to visit Chicago in the month of May for “the biggest multinational occupation of a summit meeting the world has ever seen.”

“And if they don’t listen,” the statement vowed, “we’ll flashmob the streets, shut down stock exchanges, campuses, corporate headquarters and cities across the globe.”

It’s not known how many demonstrators will respond to the call. But there’s little question that thousands of out-of-town visitors will descend on the city to attend, observe, and protest two scheduled summits of the most powerful leaders in the world.

What is in question is how it will impact—and what it
will cost—the people of Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel used his clout with President Barack Obama to bring the NATO and G8 summits here, and the way the preparations are proceeding says a lot about how he runs this town.

Just three months before the events, neither residents nor the City Council have been told how much it could cost us. And some police officers are so concerned about what could happen that they’re ordering their own riot-intervention equipment.

What follows is a primer on how we got into this mess, what we know about the summits, and—more significantly—what we don’t.

So start at the beginning— what is this all about?

For three days in May, Chicago will play host to two international summits of diplomats, world leaders, and other dignitaries. Leaders of the Group of Eight—Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—will meet from Saturday, May 19, to Sunday, May 20. And on May 20 and 21 the leaders of NATO will gather. Both summits will be held at McCormick Place.

Roughly 7,500 delegates representing 80 delegations will attend, plus about 2,500 journalists—and all those protesters.

And why are they coming to Chicago again?

Officially, President Obama decided that Chicago was a “logical choice” because it’s “a global city, connected to the global economy, with an increasing international profile,” according to Caitlin Hayden, assistant press secretary for foreign affairs. “It’s the President’s home town and has a proven record of managing big events. We know that Chicago will highlight the best of America.”

So this decision was made completely free of politics, right?

Well . . .

Unofficially, Mayor Rahm Emanuel really, really, really wanted the summits to come here. As he’s told his aides: it’s like the Olympics—only easier to get.

So he was badgering the president, Vice President Joe Biden, and other administration officials about bringing the summit here almost from the moment he won the mayoral election last February. And maybe before.

OK, but did anyone other than Mayor Emanuel really, really, really want to hold the summits in Chicago?

No. Unlike the prospect of hosting the Olympics, which always had some support, the summits weren’t on the radar—until President Obama offhandedly announced in a speech last June that they were coming to Chicago.

But surely there was some sort of bring-the-summits-to-Chicago blue ribbon committee—you know, filled with the mayor’s friends and donors?

Not until the deal was already made. More on those friends and donors in a bit.

So did I miss the dog-and-pony community hearings they held to explain why this is worth the cost and inconvenience—you know, like they did with the Olympics?

You didn’t, because there weren’t any. As Leslie Hairston sums it up: “This wasn’t a citywide decision.”

Who’s Leslie Hairston?

She’s the alderman of the Fifth Ward who, like the rest of her colleagues, generally goes along with the mayor. But last month she really pissed him off by leading a handful of powerless aldermen in opposing the summits.

So what has the mayor said about her criticism?

If you don’t like it, Hairston, then fuck you!

No, I mean, what has he said that he hasn’t said to critics before?

On the record, he said, “This will be an opportunity to showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.” We’re pretty sure he was referring to Chicago—and not his hometown of Wilmette.

What has Mayor Emanuel done to explain to Chicagoans how the summits will make their great city even greater?

He’s worked diligently to spin the press. For example, on January 12, his press office welcomed about 25 reporters to a City Hall briefing to clear up confusion about the summits. When they were finished, reporters were even more confused.

Several of the top officials responsible for the city’s preparations were there, including Lori Healey, executive director of the NATO/G8 host committee. Also in attendance were at least five mayoral press aides, who laid out rules for the reporters: we were allowed to quote anything we wanted, but we couldn’t name the person who said it.

“We want everyone to be able to speak freely,” one of the press flacks explained.

She went on to emphasize that many of the summit preparations were not yet in place and that many others would never be made public. “There are questions we can’t answer about security and other issues.”

So what did they make public?

For the next hour and a half, the officials took turns stressing that the summits presented a huge opportunity to “showcase Chicago as a world-class city”—they used the phrase repeatedly. They added that they couldn’t provide many details about what it would mean for people who actually live here.

So they were speaking freely about something they didn’t know or couldn’t talk about?

Yes—and you can quote us on that, as long as you don’t use our names.

I guess it’s good that Chicago’s going to be “showcased.” But did city officials share the analysis they conducted showing how much this will cost and benefit us?

Funny you should ask about that, because we did too. Unfortunately, the city hasn’t been able to produce anything in response to our request for the cost-benefit analysis they’ve conducted. Aldermen say they haven’t been shown any analysis either.

There’s a good reason for this: the city hasn’t conducted a formal cost-benefit analysis.


City officials tell us they’re “in possession of some very preliminary cost estimates in draft form”—but they can’t share them with us. Still, they insist that the events will be a net gain for Chicago’s economy.

So the supposed benefit to Chicago comes down to an unsubstantiated assurance from officials who’ve asked us not to name them?

That’s right.

And everyone on the City Council bought this?

Most, but not all.

How many doubters are we talking about?

A grand total of five of our 50 esteemed aldermen voted against the mayor’s summit ordinances: Robert Fioretti (Second), Will Burns (Fourth), Hairston (Fifth), Sandi Jackson (Seventh), and Nicholas Sposato (36th). “Where is the economic boom going to be to the city?” Hairston says. “These people are not going to be shopping at Garrett’s Popcorn or going to the Museum of Science and Industry.”

OK, so we don’t know how this is going to benefit Chicago. Do we at least know what it’s going to cost us?

Nope, don’t know that either. City officials say there’s no way of knowing all the summit expenses until federal officials finalize the logistics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the city is using past summits in other cities to come up with guesstimates of $40 million to $65 million. But it’s unclear what the $40 million to $65 million would cover—security, entertainment for visiting dignitaries and journalists, marketing, or everything in between. “It’s too early to say,” one spokeswoman tells us.

Who’s in charge of handing out contracts and other party favors?

That would be Mayor Emanuel. He’s been given unilateral authority to dole out any contract for any amount to any vendor he wants.

You mean there won’t be competitive bidding?

Yeah, we’re shocked too. To be fair, the mayor says that three bids will be required for any contract. Of course, the mayor will choose the three bidders.

So you can’t bid for a contract unless the mayor says you can bid for a contract?


How did he get that authority?

The authority was granted in the usual manner—a rubber stamp. That’s the 41-5 City Council vote we were talking about a minute ago.

But I read in the papers and heard on the TV that the mayor made a lot of concessions before that vote.

Well, sort of.

On December 14, Mayor Emanuel introduced several proposals related to the summits. The ones that got the most coverage would have raised fines for resisting arrest and imposed new requirements for parades and demonstrations. And the other—as we talked about already—granted him the authority to hand out contracts without a normal bidding process or City Council oversight.

At a hearing in January, a broad range of activists and other citizens, from death penalty foes to right-to-lifers, testified against the parade and protest regulations. When Emanuel agreed to cut the fine increases, most aldermen were convinced that he’d given enough ground to make the ordinances palatable.

The first question of the council hearings was literally read off the page by 11th Ward alderman James Balcer. “Do you share the public’s concern about the increased fine for resisting police officers and First Amendment issues?”

Somehow, police superintendent Garry McCarthy was ready for that one. “I didn’t really have that concern,” McCarthy said. “But after hearing the voices, and in collaboration with the administration, the police department, and the public, we decided to pull that off the table.”

Balcer was satisfied.

In other words, the mayor got a lot of kudos for making a few compromises on the protest rules while quietly getting all the contracting authority he wanted?

Yes. It’s one of the oldest political tricks in the books: distract folks with a spectacle and then dish out the dough when no one’s paying attention.

So who’s going to be on the hook for all that dough?

The mayor promises that the feds will pick up the full tab: “The U.S. government is hosting the world leaders in Chicago. The good news is the taxpayers won’t pay for this.”

Apparently, he forgot that most Chicagoans pay federal taxes.

Hey, isn’t that a cheap shot?

My bad. I’m sure the mayor knows that everyone pays federal taxes—except for donors with really good accountants.

Enough with the mayor jokes. Are we sure that the feds have committed to cover the summit costs?

What, you don’t believe everything your mayor tells you?

What if I just want to make sure?

Here’s what we know: we don’t know much.

The federal Department of Homeland Security awarded the city a $55 million grant to cover preparation costs.

But we don’t know specifically what the grant was for. The city says it’s going to provide us with a copy of the grant application and conditions but hasn’t yet. The DHS says they’ll get back to us—as soon as they’ve responded to the 421 requests in front of ours.

Hasn’t anyone made an issue of this?

Believe it or not, it briefly came up in the City Council when 31st Ward alderman Ray Suarez, hardly a frequent dissenter, asked police chief McCarthy who’s going to cover the summit expenses.

“That has not been determined,” McCarthy replied.

That deviation from the script seemed to confuse Suarez. “In our briefings we were led to believe that the federal government will cover the cost of this thing,” he said. “Now you’re telling me something different.”

Several officials and aldermen jumped in to tell Suarez not to worry. “I’ve been assured it will not cost the city,” said Alderman Carrie Austin, the council’s budget committee chair.

She concluded there was no need to delay approval, since the details could always be tweaked later.

Translation: We won’t know how much it’ll cost us until we’ve already spent the money.

Didn’t the mayor also say that civic-minded rich people would pick up some of the tab?

Yes. He’s created a committee headed by John Bryan, former CEO of Sara Lee, and Anne Olaimey, his political fund-raiser, to raise money from the business community.

And how much have they raised?

We don’t know—the information hasn’t been released. But the good news is that Lori Healey, who’s heading Emanuel’s host committee, says it will start to post donor information at the end of February.

And the bad news?

We don’t know the total cost and we don’t know how much the feds will pay and we don’t know how much the civic community will raise.

What are some of the things that will have to be paid for?

For starters, untold numbers of police officers from other cities will be deputized—and paid—to help patrol the streets during the summits.

Why do we need these outside police?

Because we don’t know how many demonstrators will show up. Plus, Chicago’s police force is smaller than it’s been in years. Chicago currently has about 11,000 police officers, 900 fewer than five years ago.

Any other bad news?

The city could be on the hook to pay Chicago Parking Meters LLC an unspecified amount of money.

You mean the guys who own our street parking system?

Yes—our old friends.

What do they have to do with the G8 and NATO summits?

Under their 75-year lease deal, the city has to pay Parking Meters LLC every time a metered spot is taken out of operation. So if parts of downtown are blocked off for summit security, we the people will make up the difference in lost meter revenue—potentially millions of dollars.

So we have to pay a private company for the right to use our public streets?

We can debate whether the streets are still fully public, but yes, that’s correct.

And who exactly is overseeing this extravaganza?

World Business Chicago—an organization funded by the city whose board is made up of business executives handpicked by the mayor, including leaders of Grosvenor Capital Management, Deloitte & Touche, and United-Continental.

Wait—haven’t I heard those names before?

Probably. Grosvenor employees and family members donated more than $500,000 to the mayor’s election campaign. Deloitte has received millions of dollars in city consulting work. And United was the beneficiary of millions in tax increment financing subsidies.

But at least the mayor won’t allow any members of World Business Chicago to get summit contracts, right?

Actually, Motorola Solutions, whose chairman, Greg Brown, sits on the board, already got a $16 million-a-year contract for police radio equipment.

Wow—that was fast!

And that was even before the new contracting rules went into effect. Hey, that’s why this is still the city that works.

Joey Jachowski contributed research to this story.