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Updated 03/08/12 – 4:25 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – With the NATO summit still slated for Chicago this May, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is publicly shrugging off the White House decision to relocate the G8 summit of world leaders to Camp David in Maryland.
Chicago might have lost the G8, but the city was still in the international spotlight Thursday, as mayors, other municipal leaders, and ministers from around the globe got together to share ideas.
Emanuel was hosting a conference of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The meeting at the Chicago Cultural Center was a chance for the mayors to get together and exchange ideas about making their cities safer, healthier, and cleaner.
As CBS 2′s Dorothy Tucker reports, it was the first time an OECD conference has been held in a U.S. city, and bringing it to Chicago was all a part of the mayor’s economic strategy, who offered a warm welcome for mayors, ministers and other leaders from 34 nations around the world.
City officials say Mayor Rahm Emanuel extended the invitation months ago. It was to be the first of several international events in Chicago, including the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in April. That would have been followed by the G8 summit – which was since moved to Camp David – and the NATO summit on May 20 and 21.
“The goal of holding these conferences, the goals of marketing the city of Chicago beyond what we had, was to build our tourism industry,” Emanuel said.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports the mayor said Chicago still wins, despite the loss of the G8 summit.
“While the nature of the event has changed, the economic opportunity and job opportunity that comes from it still exists,” Emanuel said. “Each of these conferences bringing the world to Chicago, and Chicago to the world, is about a strategy of economic growth and job creation.”
The mayor said hosting the world leaders of the 50 nations that will attend the NATO summit – including six of the eight nations in the G8 – is a major economic opportunity for the city.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg came to Emanuel’s defense, saying he didn’t understand the controversy over losing only one of the two summits.
“The G8’s going to Camp David, and NATO’s coming here? Neither are coming to New York. I mean, what’s wrong here? We [New York City] should have both, and you’re being criticized?” Bloomberg joked. “You’re batting .500, you’re getting in the Hall of Fame. I don’t know what the problem is.”
Bloomberg said he can’t understand why anyone would fault Emanuel, when Chicago is keeping the NATO summit, which will still place an international spotlight on Chicago.
“The press, on the NATO thing, 50 countries, their press is going to write about Chicago. They’re going to write about what it’s like to live here … what the people are like, how easy it is to get around, is the food good, is it exciting, is it a place that maybe you’d want to visit,” Bloomberg said. “That’s what builds the economy of cities like Chicago.”
Chicago ranks 10th among U.S. cities in the tourism industry, behind Boston; Emanuel said moving up just one spot would mean big bucks for Chicago.
“That’s a billion dollars more of economic activity,” he said.
Bloomberg, whose city ranks 1st in the nation in tourism, said the NATO summit alone is a big win for Chicago.
“It’s a chance to sell your city,” he said. “And the ideas that you can pick up, even if it’s not one idea that you implement, if it gets you thinking out of that, in come things that make great cities stay great.”
Emanuel administration officials insist they have no problem with the decision to move the G8 summit out of Chicago, pointing out the NATO summit is the larger of the two meetings, with representatives from 50 nations attending the summit on May 20 and 21.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said keeping the NATO summit in Chicago sends a message.
“The message that is so important to send to the rest of the world is that, under this president, we have re-engaged with the world again; and we are willing to work with the world in a way that, perhaps, we hadn’t under prior administrations.”
Robert Doyle, mayor of Melbourne, Australia, was among many of the international guests who gave Chicago high marks on Thursday, and he promised to personally promote the city.
“I think people will feel very at home here. The wide streets, beautiful architects, you know, Melbourne people, I think, would appreciate that very much,” he said. “And I think the best asset’s your people. People are friendly, which is great for a visitor. You feel very welcomed, and you feel like you’re having a happy time in the city. That’s something you can’t manufacture.”
The mayor pointed out that, in the economic plan he announced last week, he pointed to the need to build up Chicago’s tourism industry to catch up to its convention industry, which has been rebounding under reforms he helped enact at McCormick Place.