President Barack Obama attends a meeting with the leaders of he Group of Eight (G8) during the G8 summit in L'Aquila, central Italy, on July 9, 2009.
From Mayor Rahm Emanuel himself to representatives of Chicago’s G8/NATO host committee, city officials did their best Monday to put a good spin on the city’s loss of the prestigious G8 summit, which was abruptly pulled from the city for the more secure setting of Camp David.
But there was no mistaking the shock being felt at all quarters about the abruptness of the White House announcement that the G8 was being moved.
"We wish President Obama and the other leaders well," Emanuel said in a statement, noting that the city was still hosting the companion NATO summit which he branded a "tremendous opportunity."
A spokesman said Emanuel was notified of the change in a phone call from a "White House official." That official was not the President.
A reason for the change in plans was not given but could explain why some of Emanuel's recent meetings in Washington, D.C. were kept off his public schedule.
Opponents of the twin summits declared a partial victory, but promised that demonstrations by tens of thousands of protesters would continue as planned.
Many business leaders said their plans for protecting their companies and buildings from an onslaught of demonstrators would proceed unchecked. The Police department echoed that stand.
"This doesn’t change the planning, or preparation of the Chicago Police Department," said spokesman Melissa Stratton. "Our preparation and priorities remain the same. Ensuring the public safety of our communities throughout the city."
Still, the announcement was a surprise to even Chicago police Supt. Garry McCarthy.
Host committee spokesman Jennifer Martinez insisted the change did not represent concern about the city’s ability to handle the security concerns of the dual summits.
“We think the President wants to have a more intimate summit,” Martinez said, noting that six of the eight G8 countries would be attending the NATO event in Chicago after the Camp David summit is completed. "I don’t think this decision in any way shows a lack of confidence that Chicago can handle it."
Indeed, National Security Council spokesman Caitlin Hayden insisted a lack of faith in Chicago was not the reason for the change.
"We have full confidence in Chicago’s ability to host two summits," Hayden said. "The NATO and ISAF meetings that will go forward in Chicago are far larger than the G8 meetings."
Gov. Pat Quinn's reaction to the news didn't mention G8 but instead emphasized that the NATO summit will still be held in Chicago and stressed that Illinois is "an excellent place to do business."
He said the state of Illinois continues to look forward to hosting world leaders and their representatives in the "great city of Chicago" at the NATO meeting in May.
Had both summits been held in Chicago as originally planned, it would have been the first time in North America. It was London in 1977 when both organizations last met in the same city at the same time.
The White House announced plans last summer to hold both summits back-to-back in Chicago, giving the president a high-profile opportunity to tout his foreign policy and diplomatic credentials on his home turf in an election year.
The idea of moving the G8 to Camp David was raised to the president a few weeks ago, a senior administration official said, adding that the president was intrigued by the novelty of the idea and asked staff whether they could pull off the change.
The official who spoke on condition of anonymity about internal White House thinking.
The city's host committee had estimated it could cost $40 million to $65 million to stage the events, including the costs for security.
Gordon Johndroe, who served as National Security Council spokesman for President George W. Bush, said the immense logistics involved in setting up an international gathering like the G8 would make it difficult to split the summits at such a late date.
"It is very complicated to set these things up, and even more complicated to move them that quickly," said Johndroe.
Leaders from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, as well as the European Union, are expected to attend this year's G8 gathering.
While the NATO event is larger, and expected to draw more than 50 world leaders, its importance seems to have diminished. Planners had billed the final day of the summit as an important date, where the President and his NATO allies would issue an important communiqué on the continued transition from Afghanistan.
But the White House announced Monday that Mr. Obama will travel that same day to Joplin, Mo. to deliver the commencement address at Joplin’s high school, to commemorate that city’s devastation from a tornado one year ago.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.