NATO summit gives Chicago coveted global spotlight

By Tammy Webber

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

"From a marketing standpoint, to have that many opinion leaders from that many nations" offers an unprecedented opportunity to promote business "and the fact that we really truly are a global city," said Rita Athas, president of World Business Chicago, a group of powerful executives working with Emanuel to promote the city and attract investment.

The summit also carries potential risks, especially if the police department, which never completely shed its reputation for brutality, has violent confrontations with the thousands of expected demonstrators.

Obama took a gamble by announcing that both the G-8 and NATO summits would be held in his hometown during a presidential election year. His later decision to move the G-8 meeting of leading industrialized nations to Camp David may have been an acknowledgment of those risks.

"If there were a major clash in Chicago (at the NATO summit) and the police ended up acting with a heavy hand ... I think it would seriously undermine Chicago's reputation as an enlightened world city," said Todd Gitlin, a sociology professor at Columbia University who has written extensively about the 1968 convention, where Chicago police violently clashed with an estimated 10,000 protesters. "There is a lot riding on it."

For all of its progress, the city's global reputation has remained largely mired in the past. Even Russian President Vladimir Putin recently took a dig at Chicago when asked about possible plans to attend the NATO summit.

"Yes, they say (Chicago is) good. Al Capone lived there," Putin said.

And the city is bedeviled by longtime demons. Corruption still makes the front page, years after lawsuits and prosecutions put an official end to the infamous Chicago political machine. It's one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the country, and it's wrestling with a budget deficit of more than $600 million. Half of public high school students drop out before graduating.

Timuel Black, a veteran civil rights activist and history professor on the South Side, said the NATO summit might be a boon for Chicago's downtown and for businesses and residents who are already successful.

But he doubts it will do anything for the most impoverished neighborhoods that have only become poorer and more violent with the loss of jobs and the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

"They're concerned about schools, health care, jobs for themselves and their kids, and they just don't see the benefit" of a NATO summit, said Black, who is 93.

Longworth, from the Council on Global Affairs, said a successful summit could attract more development and tourists.

"It is not going to solve the city's problems in one stroke," he said. "But the city really does need this exposure."

Associated Press Writer Don Babwin contributed to this report.

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