Will He or Won't He? Obama the Key to Chicago's Olympic Dream

Obama has several no-win situations. The only way he looks good is if Chicago gets the 2016 Olympics without him there, which is not likely according to at least one guy who oughta know.
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There really shouldn't be much suspense here - the man said it plain-as-day during Wednesday's White House rah-rah for Chicago's 2016 Olympic bid.

"I would make the case in Copenhagen personally, if I weren't so firmly committed to making -- making real the promise of quality, affordable health care for every American," President Obama said. "But the good news is I'm sending a more compelling superstar to represent the city and country we love, and that is our First Lady, Michelle Obama.

"I promise you, we are fired up about this," he said, making it obvious that he needed to make that particular point crystal clear to his audience.

The guy has several no-win situations:

A) He's a deadbeat for ignoring health care reform and the war in Afghanistan to go schmooze the International Olympic Committee on vote day, October 2, in Copenhagen if Chicago gets the Games.

B) If instead the bid goes to another city, Obama looks like a total loser if he went through all the trouble of going there to kiss the Olympic committee's ring for naught.

C) He looks bad if he doesn't go "represent" his fellow Chicagoans and his absence is blamed for a loss.

The only way he looks good is if Chicago gets it without him there, which is not likely according to at least one guy who oughta know, but I'll come back to that.

I spent almost three full days this week immersed in the minutiae of the 2016 proposal during DePaul University's 2016 Olympics Specialized Reporting Institute and picked up a bunch of interesting tidbits I'll just list for your reading enjoyment:

•Charlie Besser, a sport television media specialist, estimates that a U.S. 2016 Olympic games would bring in $400- $500 million more U.S. dollars in sponsorship revenue than a Rio, Madrid or Tokyo games. He said that if you aggregated media rights revenues from all of Europe, it would come out to be about a third of the estimated $2-billion-plus the U.S. summer-winter package would bring in - and he made it clear the IOC knows this.

•Misty Johanson, a Hospitality Leadership professor who was heavily involved in Atlanta's 1996 summer games, said their Games revitalized downtown Atlanta and had an estimated $5 billion economic impact from over 2 million visitors during the Olympic and Paralympic games. Give the lady her honesty points: she was clear that people were displaced in the process and that all these years later, there are lingering issues over the loss of a key housing project.

•I'll credit this quote to Rita Athas, the executive director of World Business Chicago, though nearly every expert who addressed the press corps during the conference said exactly the same thing: "No Summer Games in the United States has ever lost money." Sure, breaking even is a far cry from the $22.5 billion she said the bid expects to bring to Chicago, but still.

• Over at Washington Park, home to the proposed Olympic Stadium, a bid representative said that although opponents are complaining about the crowds, even the largest estimated number of people clogging the area during the games wouldn't compare to the number of kiddies, bands, and grannies that choke the place up every year during the annual Bud Billiken Parade.

•Also over in Washington Park, Cecilia Butler, an outspoken neighborhood activist, responded thusly when I told her about all the people who contact me daily to say how pathetic the Chicago Olympic Committee's outreach has been and how dearly they want Chicago to lose the bid: "We've had close to 50 meetings here, this has been in the minds of people for a long time. The very fact that we're here talking is a good thing." Butler said, "And a lot of those people who are against this - they've never lived here."

Some thoughts from Richard Pound, a voting member of the International Olympic Committee:

•"One of the problems Chicago has is that not as many [evaluation committee members] have been to Chicago as have been to Madrid, Rio, or Tokyo."

•"Who wins is not necessarily based on which is the best bid, but which has the least risk associated and you don't want to make a mistake."

•"I don't think the International Olympic Committee pays attention to opinion polls they figure if the city gets the bid, public opinion will come around. I think that's a very minor part of it - besides, if you had 98% of the people in Chicago in favor of it, I'd be really worried."

•"It's very hard to tell [who the favorite is], if you're in my position you kind of follow the media. There's not the slightest doubt that Tokyo would put on a good games, that Madrid would build on Barcelona...no one has any doubts Chicago can organize a games. To say they're all good - that's a waste of time."

Now, getting back to this Obama business ... nearly every single expert was asked about the Obama Factor. And all of them said that hands-down, the President not showing up would certainly not bode well for the bid and his presence could make the big difference.

Mayor Daley had, earlier in the week, said he had a "glimmer of hope" that the President would change his mind and be in Copenhagen for the big day, but chose not to press the President on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday. He instead expressed gratitude that First Lady Michelle Obama is going.

That's gotta hurt, but don't count Obama out yet. Those who know him say hope is still alive.

"I've been following Obama since he went to Springfield, I know him pretty well, and I think he's going to go," long time political reporting star Andy Shaw, now Executive Director of the Better Government Association, told us during a breakout session. "He's going to carry the day - he does some things on gut, he believes in giving things his best shot."

Richard Pound, who himself will be casting a vote, said it loud and clear: "I think it's pretty important for the President to go to Copenhagen for the vote, if he doesn't, you're not maximizing the chances of winning. If you can twist the Presidential arm to go ... it could make a huge difference."

If Obama shows up in Copenhagen in October, I don't think anyone will have to wonder who did the twisting.

Esther J. Cepeda writes about the Olympics, Chicago, arm twisting, and much, much more on www.600words.com

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