NATO, G8 Summits In Chicago: Event Costs Questioned By Union, Residents

When President Obama announced that Chicago would be the first U.S. city outside of Washington, D.C. to ever host a NATO summit, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said this was Chicago's chance to "showcase what is great about the greatest city in the greatest country.” But some residents are questioning whether hosting the NATO and G8 summits will be worth the cost to the city -- and they aren't just talking about money.

The summits, which will be held May 19 through 21 at Chicago's McCormick Place, will cost between $40 million and $65 million. The city claims those costs will be covered by private donors and federal funds, the Chicago Sun-Times reported last week, somewhat apprehensively:

The guarantee that Chicago taxpayers will not be left holding the bag is a familiar one.

After repeatedly insisting that he would never put a blank check behind Chicago’s failed 2016 Olympic bid, Daley offered to sign a host-city contract that amounted to an open-ended guarantee from local taxpayers.

But, the Emanuel administration insisted Thursday, “That was a guarantee — not cash out of pocket. No such guarantee is required” for the NATO and G-8 summits.

University of Chicago Economist Allen Sanderson told CBS Chicago Tuesday that even with private funds and federal help, the summit could be a "potential disaster."

"Again, I hope it’s not. I hope things go really well and the city gets a real positive spin from it, but if you were betting in Las Vegas, you’d bet that’s not going to be the outcome," Sanderson told the station, adding that battles between police and protesters could once again tarnish the city's reputation.

Already, protesters are fired up over rules in a proposed ordinance that would have cracked down on activists who resist arrest or obstruct officers. The city has since removed those fine increases and other controversial measures from the ordinance. Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th), however, told the Chicago Sun-Times that some of his constituents are afraid the summits will lead to the violent clashes that came to define the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

“They’re worried. What people are saying is, 'Let’s not put laws in place that look like they’re trying to limit protests. That’s gonna inflame people,'” he said.

Meanwhile, Mayor Emanuel and the city's aldermen faced criticism from unions who have been fighting the mayor over budget cuts and layoffs. AFSCME Executive Director Henry Bayer, who received a letter asking his members to give up their raises to keep city libraries open six days per week, wondered to WLS-AM radio why private funding couldn't be found for city libraries.

The majority of city libraries were closed last Monday after the union representing city librarians could not reach an agreement with the mayor's office on cuts to the system.

"Library services are much more important to Chicago’s neighborhoods than bringing the G-8 to the city,” Bayer told WLS. “If those people can afford to put up $45 million or $60 million, which is the city’s estimate, why isn’t he out there asking them, 'Wouldn’t you be willing to pay a little bit more — just a fraction of that $60 million — which could be used to keep the libraries open'"?