Mayor Rahm Emanuel insists he had no advance notice that the G8 Summit was about to be pulled from Chicago for the more serene setting of Camp David, Maryland.
“I found out when everybody else found out,” the mayor said. “An hour ahead of time.”
In a City Hall interview, Emanuel said hosting the NATO Summit here would be a tremendous benefit to the city, because “the economic opportunity stays the same for the City of Chicago.”
"We’re still going to have 50 world leaders from all over, here (for the NATO conference)," the mayor noted. "Their foreign ministers, their defense ministers, here. The spouses of the heads of state, even of the G8, six, maybe seven, I’m not certain about Russia, are all still coming here."
It is all part of what Emanuel insists was the strategy all along: to bring "the world to Chicago and Chicago to the world." While the city excels at convention business, he noted that Chicago is 10th in tourism. It’s a number he wants to boost and he says this type of event provides that type of exposure.
"Every point you move up in tourism is a billion three in economic opportunity and job creation," he said.
And he suggested that the prestige of hosting the NATO event was a huge plus.
"Outside of D.C., I’m almost positive, maybe New York, Chicago will be the only city to host NATO in America," he said. "So it’s a unique opportunity."
While some have wondered aloud if losing the prestigious G8 and a chance for the rare twin-bill with NATO was a disappointment, Emanuel was philosophical about a change which he said was rooted merely in the President’s desire to host the event in the more pastoral setting of Camp David.
"The nature of it has altered, but the economic opportunity has not," he said. "And I’m not dealing with that emotion. We’ve got to get ready, because as the President said, we’re ready to host this, we can do these big events, and I want this to be a big opportunity for the City of Chicago, economically."
What about the protests? It’s no secret that some in the central business district are facing the weekend, and the promise of thousands of demonstrators, with some trepidation. Indeed, some use the word “dread”.
"I understand that people are anxious, nervous," he said. "There are other people who see an opportunity. I see both the opportunity, and a police department that has shown itself to date, and will continue to prepare, so we can do this, and as the President himself said yesterday, Chicago’s ready to do this."
Other cities, of course, were hit with big demonstrations. But Emanuel insisted those same cities hosted successful events, and Chicago was equally up to the task.
"Pittsburgh did this. Toronto did this. Denver at one time did this. Hawaii just had a big event. We can do this," he said.