Questions Swirl About Decision To Move G8 Summit
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UPDATED 03/06/12 5:33 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Questions still buzz around President Barack Obama’s surprise decision Monday to move the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the NATO summit scheduled for the same weekend will still be held in Chicago on May 20 and 21. The plan had been to hold both summits at McCormick Place over the weekend of May 19-21, with the G8 summit running from May 18-19.
But Monday afternoon, the White House announced the G8 summit would be held at Camp David instead.
“To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues,” the White House said in a prepared statement.
Elaborating on the subject at his official news conference Tuesday, President Obama emphasized, as many others have, that the NATO summit is still coming to Chicago.
“Keep in mind that we’re still going to show up with a whole bunch of world leaders. We’ve got that NATO summit,” Obama said at the White House. “We’ve typically tried to attach the G8 Summit to the NATO Summit so the leaders in the G8 Summit don’t have to travel twice to whatever location. So last year in France, we combined a G8 with a NATO Summit. We’ll do so again.”
Obama also suggested that the decision was more about Camp David just being a better venue than about keeping the summit out of Chicago.
“This was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO Summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn’t had any of my counterparts whom I’ve worked with now for three years up to Camp David, I think,” Obama said. “G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty informal way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop.”
The abrupt change of venue even caught Mayor Rahm Emanuel by surprise.
But the mayor says he is not insulted. In fact, he said Monday, he and President Obama were talking about the possibility of moving the summit before the decision was made.
“We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO summit in Chicago,” Mayor Emanuel said in a statement Monday. “Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21.”
On Tuesday morning, Mayor’s Office spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton said the mayor’s message has not changed when it comes to the summit moving.
“(Mayor Emanuel)’s message has not changed – he wishes the President and the other leaders well at the meeting and looks forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago,” Hamilton said in an e-mail to CBS 2.
She was not immediately able to provide information about how the summit moving would affect the price tag for preparations such as police staffing, contracts, drawing police manpower from elsewhere, and booking hotel rooms.
Regardless of the departure of the G8 summit, all the special events in the city for that week are still on schedule, according to the host committee.
A host committee representative says the absence of the G8 summit has minimal impact on operations and tourism, because the city is still anticipating upwards of 10,000 delegates, staff and international journalists who will eat, shop and spend money in the city.
In fact, officials say the bulk of the planning was going to go toward NATO anyway. Six of the eight G8 countries are also part of NATO, and dignitaries from those countries are still expected to come to the city.
But the question of why the G8 summit is being moved is still circling in the minds of many Chicagoans.
A top City Hall source told CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall that “things have changed in international politics,” leading President Obama to move the G8 summit to Camp David.
Terrorism expert Tom Mockaitis says those changes could be related to tensions heating up in the Middle East, and increased concerns about how protesters might respond.
“There’s no question that may have figured into the thinking,” Mockaitis said. ““On the other hand, they may have looked at Chicago and said we’re not confident you can provide the security without it being sufficiently undisruptive of the proceedings.”
Camp David, located in the mountains of Maryland, is about 60 miles away from Washington, D.C., and has extremely tight security.
Meanwhile, the reaction among city officials is not one of universal disappointment. Even after months of preparation, from training police officers to planning events to highlight the city, Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) believes this decision is a good one.
“I think I, along with other residents in the South and West Loop, feel relieved,” Fioretti said.
On Tuesday morning, other aldermen said they were shocked by the sudden change.
“I was surprised by it. Someone tweeted it to me – that’s how I learned yesterday afternoon, so it was a big surprise,” said Ald. James Cappleman (46th). “We still have the NATO, so it’s still going to be a huge event, and it’s still something that’s going to be highlighting the city of Chicago as a world class city, so I’m delighted.”
Some aldermen said they weren’t certain the city was ready for the G8 summit.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) told CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley she felt somewhat relieved that the summit was moved to Camp David. She said she never felt comfortable about Chicago’s security preparations.
“I never really felt that we had our i’s dotted and out t’s crossed,” she said.
During preparations for the G8 and NATO summits, aldermen have been kept in the dark about security plans, leaving them wondering if Chicago is ready.
“I have businesses in the South Loop, and businesses that are in the Brozeville area, that had some concerns and some questions and I couldn’t answer them,” Dowell said, because she hadn’t been made privy to security plans.
But aldermen said the NATO summit alone would still require a lot of security and resources.
“In all honesty, I can’t say I’m disappointed, but I think we still need to be concentrating on the NATO summit, because it’s the biggest summit,” said Ald. Roderick Smith (6th). “We still have security concerns. We still have an inconvenience to our citizens.”
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) said Camp David was clearly a better choice for ensuring security during the G8 summit, which observers have said was the most likely summit to draw major protests.
“No one can get near Camp David, but having fifty- or a hundred-thousand people come to Chicago is a little more of a distraction,” he said.
Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President Mike Shields said the police union has said all along that the summit was not a good idea for taxpayers, nor for the safety of police officers.
But Shields tells WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore that he is still worried about the thousands of protesters expected with the NATO summit still coming.
“We’re definitely preparing ourselves,” Shields said. “We’ll just stay the course, and we’re going to be dealing with the same type of people that are going to be coming into town – you know, a NATO summit or a G8 summit is kind of like a Mardi Gras for violent protesters.”
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
Anti-war and Occupy Chicago protesters are claiming victory in the wake of the move. An Occupy Chicago news release argued that “the leaders of the 1 percent are moving because of the overwhelming resistance to the NATO/G8 war and poverty agenda in Chicago.”
In addition to criticizing city policy, the release accused the city of mounting “a campaign to intimidate and vilify protesters, claiming that protests lead to violence. In fact, the main source of violence in the world today is the wars being waged by NATO and the U.S.”
“People are going to take this victory and see that protest works, and we expect many more people to come to Chicago as a result of the G8 cancellation,” protest organizer Andy Thayer said as a crowd cheered behind him in Daley Plaza Monday night.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Lisa Fielding reports
University of Chicago economist Allen Sanderson called the decision to move the G8 a blessing – and hardly an embarrassment – except maybe locally.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
“I think of those in the know, and sort of the 312 or 708 or 773 area codes, it probably is a bit of a black eye, but I think that’s pretty local,” Sanderson said. “The circle’s pretty tightly drawn 100 miles from Chicago.”
Sanderson had originally suggested the G8 summit be held at a location even more remote than the one Kass proposed – a military base in Guam in the South Pacific. But Sanderson said Camp David is a good second bet, and said maybe now they can get some work done.