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Organizers Rally Support For Chicago's Olympic Bid

Beijing Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bryan Clay talks to students during a World Sport Chicago sports camp in Chicago in April, when members of Chicago 2016 met with the International Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission.
M. Spencer Green
Beijing Olympic decathlon gold medalist Bryan Clay talks to students during a World Sport Chicago sports camp in Chicago in April, when members of Chicago 2016 met with the International Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission.

Organizers of Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympics have spent more than a month traveling to neighborhoods to explain the city's plan and drum up support.

Chicago is one of four finalists — and the only U.S. city — vying for the hosting gig. The International Olympic Committee will select the winner in less than two months.

Selling The Games' Benefits

On a recent day, Lori Healey, president of Chicago's 2016 Committee, and other officials answered questions and presented details about the city's Olympic plan to residents of the 49th ward on Chicago's far North Side.

The 49th ward will not be a site for any of Chicago's planned Olympic venues, but on this day, the neighborhood library is packed with residents.

"You all know we're competing against three world-class cities: Madrid; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Tokyo," Healey tells the crowd.

Much of the talk centers on the economic benefits Chicago can expect if it wins the bid. "Other cities that have hosted the games have seen a sevenfold increase in international tourism," she says.

As an example, she points to Atlanta — the last city in the U.S. to host a Summer Olympics, back in 1996. The presentation includes a clip from current Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who says the games increased Atlanta's international visibility and its employment.

"People got educations," Franklin says in the clip. "Educational institutions got stronger, and people got jobs and they expanded their businesses. There is no lose."

And then there's the clip from the supporter who is probably Chicago's most formidable weapon in this contest over the Olympics: President Obama.

"Bringing Olympics to Chicago will be a capstone in the success that we've had in the last couple of decades in transforming Chicago, not only into a great American city, but into a great world city," he says.

Questioning The Wisdom Of A Bid

One of the big differences between Chicago's Olympic bid and the Olympic bids of its competitors is that the governments of Madrid, Rio De Janeiro and Tokyo have promised to back billions of dollars in Olympic costs. Chicago and the state of Illinois have offered a contingency guarantee of less than $1 billion.

The 2016 Committee says Chicago's bid will be covered by private funds and is a no-risk opportunity. Even so, there has been strong opposition from critics who say taxpayers could end up being liable.

During the presentation at the 49th Ward library, resident Seth Mayer from Rogers Park introduces himself before offering this observation on Franklin's taped comments. "First of all, I don't find the Atlanta mayor's comments particularly convincing, because you would expect that someone who decided to get the Olympics would say it's a good idea. I'm more curious about what community members have to say after the fact," he says to applause.

Another resident, Mike Faymus, tells 2016 member Arnold Randall that instead of focusing on the Olympics, the city should be paying attention to other issues — like improving Chicago's public transit system. "I think a lot of the objection is that the money is being whisked away from what we feel like should be in our city," he says.

Randall responds that the money being spent is not public money, but Faymus says, "We don't believe that."

An Unusual And Risky Strategy

That's not to say there aren't supporters of the games in Chicago. There are plenty, and public support is an important factor in the IOC's decision-making process. Ed Hula, editor of — a Web site that covers the Olympic Games — says that is what makes Chicago's efforts to drum up support through community meetings both unusual and risky.

"You never know what kind of opposition to the bid might develop from this," he says. "But at the same time, you're building public confidence in the right way. Don't try to confuse and bamboozle people — I think they will generally go along with the plans."

The committee will wrap up its Olympic bid community meetings at the end of the month.

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