Thursday, October 1, 2009
All eyes are on Copenhagen, where the International Olympic Committee will decide Friday whether Chicago will get to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, or whether the games instead will be played in Madrid, Rio de Janeiro or Tokyo.
First lady Michelle Obama arrived in Copenhagen on Wednesday to participate in the Chicago bid committee's final push for votes for her hometown.
The public relations blitz from Chicago's boosters focuses on the city's natural beauty, top-notch venues and claims widespread hometown support.
But there are at least some Chicagoans who don't want the games coming to their city.
"I think the Olympics are wonderful, I just don't think they're good to be in Chicago," says Jack Malone, an accountant from the city's north side, who joined about 250 other Chicagoans and suburbanites protesting Chicago's Olympic bid outside of City Hall on Tuesday night.
"I mean, you can only showcase the city once all the problems in the city are done, in my opinion. We have a lot of problems in the city that are not being taken care of," Malone adds.
Malone and others complain that the city's schools, health care facilities, roads and mass transit lines aren't getting the attention they need, while city officials focus on bringing the Olympics to Chicago. Problems such as homelessness, crime, the lack of affordable housing and good jobs are being ignored, too, protesters claim.
"The Olympic Games will not improve the quality of life for most Chicagoans," says Bill Schandelmeier, who lives in the city and works for a railroad. He argues that few city residents would benefit from the games, but all would end up paying for them.
"The mayor has consistently said that this won't cost the taxpayers additional revenues, but that's a lie. We know that there have been cost overruns on project after project," Schandelmeier says. He adds that the city's occasional penchant for corrupt contracting might worm its way into the multibillion-dollar Olympic budget. "That's the kind of politics we have here in Chicago, and that's what we need to stop."
Chicago officials say there is very little taxpayer funding going to the games up front, though the city and state of Illinois have guaranteed that they will cover hundreds of millions of dollars in potential cost overruns. The Chicago bid committee says there is insurance to protect taxpayers from some of those possible costs, and they contend that the city, in the long run, will make money on the Olympic Games.
Some Chicagoans don't buy it.
"Our city is in such crummy shape, such pathetic financial shape, I think our great-grandchildren will be paying if we get these Olympics," says Barbara Chadwick, a retiree who lives on Chicago's northwest side. She worries not only about the cost and possible corruption, but about transit and traffic headaches, too.
"Ugh! I can't even imagine," Chadwick says. "I mean, as it is, the expressways in Chicago are a nightmare much of the day. And every time I'm on the Kennedy [Expressway], I think, 'What would this be like when all this begins?' [There will be] construction everywhere, and I don't think the city is going to have any lasting benefits."
Others are concerned that the construction of Olympic venues would displace residents, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, or that valuable inner city park space, beaches and harbors would be lost to game venues.
A Web site, www.ChicagoansForRio.com, started by a local advertising executive and some friends, created a stir in the city as it promotes one of Chicago's competing cities. A group called No Games Chicago, which organized Tuesday night's protest, is even sending a few representatives to Copenhagen in hopes of influencing the IOC to send the Olympics elsewhere in 2016.
To be sure, there are those who don't oppose Chicago getting the Olympics per se, but who don't trust Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's administration to spend Olympic money fairly or wisely. And there are Chicagoans who support the bid for the games, but still want to see greater transparency and accountability in how money for the games will be spent.
"I mean, it'll be an opportunity for Chicago, but I don't want to pay for it," says Annette Olsen, in between waiting on customers at the Golden Nugget Pancake House on Chicago's northwest side. Every day, she sees other priorities, including "streets, potholes, crime, drugs [and] schools," that she says the city should be spending money to fix before spending on the Olympics.
A couple of Chicago police officers sitting down for breakfast seconded those sentiments. Though they wouldn't talk about the Olympics on tape, because as one of the officers said, "you'd have to bleep out every other word," they expressed concerns about how difficult the Olympic Games might make their jobs.
To be fair, though, there are many Chicagoans who support the city's bid for the Olympics. The Chicago bid committee released a poll this week highlighting overwhelming support — with 72 percent in favor of the games — though some longtime city residents think those poll numbers might reflect a bit of Chicago-style electioneering.