Maybe Chicago should change its slogan from “I Will” to “I’ll Give It My Best Shot, But Don’t Blame Me If I Fail.”
Chicago is an ambitious city. We invented the skyscraper, and for many years, we were home of the world’s tallest building. We’ve won more Nobel Prizes than any other city. Our pro basketball team won six NBA championships, making its star player the most famous man in the world. We gave America its first black president. Barack Obama has been called the most famous man in history.
Yet, we never quite feel we’re world class. And we keep embarrassing ourselves by trying to prove it. For the second time in three years, we’ve lost a major international event that might have lifted us into the top rank of world cities. Both times, it’s been seen as a humiliation for the sitting mayor. Chicago’s failure to win the 2016 Olympics didn’t end Richard M. Daley’s career, but he would probably still be mayor if we had been named the host city.
Now, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is so mortified by President Obama’s snatching away of the G8 summit that he disappeared to New York. Members of the host committee cancelled a press conference. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy won’t talk about it, either. (Full disclosure, NBC Chicago managed to grab a 1-on-1 interview with the mayor late Wednesday.)
At Tuesday’s White House press conference, Obama said, “I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues, whether it’s Taste of Chicago or [Lolla]palooza or Bulls Championships, we know how to deal with a crowd. And I’m sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure everything goes off well.”
In mediaspeak, a vote of confidence is a vote of no confidence. Whenever a coach tells reporters, “I have every confidence in my quarterback,” it means he’s about to bench the guy.
What makes this worse is that there is another city that’s succeeded in both endeavors we’ve failed at: London hosted the G8 and the NATO summits in 1977, and will host the Olympics this summer. London has been a major world capital since the 16th century. It’s one of two Alpha+ world cities, along with New York. Chicago isn’t there yet. But we’ll keep trying to pull ourselves up into that league, because trying to be world class -- while not quite being world class -- is what defines Chicago as a city.
Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!