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Will NATO protests get ugly? City prepares

Lori Healey Executive Director G8/NATO Host Committee speaking G8/NATO  briefing Cultural Center. Wednesday January 25 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

Lori Healey, Executive Director of the G8/NATO Host Committee, speaking at the G8/NATO briefing at the Cultural Center. Wednesday, January 25, 2012 | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 27, 2012 9:58AM



Officials outlined a series of plans Wednesday to show off Chicago to the world during the NATO and G-8 summits in May and expressed confidence in their ability to keep thousands of protesters in check when leaders from around the globe arrive for the “Super Bowl of meetings.”

As they announced a host of educational, cultural, athletic and culinary events — very similar to the ones touted by organizers who unsuccessfully tried to bring the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago — officials tried to keep the emphasis on what they will do and not dire warnings of how demonstrators might act.

“All the focus on negativity is unproductive and just not a good way to focus our energies at this point,” said Lori Healey, executive director for the Chicago Host Committee, who held a similar role in the city’s bid for the Olympics. “We’re focused on the positive aspects of this.”

When reminded of the still-powerful images of the violent confrontations between police and protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Healey brushed aside any comparisons between Chicago then and now.

“This is not 1968, I think that’s an important point to make,” she said. “The city’s hosted many, many events since then ... and everything went off very smoothly.”

Healey said not only did she have confidence in the city’s police force, the U.S. Secret Service and other agencies assigned to security during the summits, but that Chicago did not see the same violence during last year’s Occupy movement of anti-Wall Street demonstrations that other cities saw.

“We dealt with Occupy better than any other city in the United States,” she said.

To head off possible confrontations, Felicia Davis, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s advisor on security, said that the office has contacted various protest groups and has met with representatives from the Occupy Chicago movement.

But Andy Thayer, a protest leader, said the city has not been as receptive to the group’s concerns as officials suggest. For example, he said the city cannot even guarantee that the rally sites and protest routes it agrees to won’t have to be changed at the last minute if the Secret Service designates them as security zones.

“They’re trying to set up a good cop-bad cop scenario and we’re not stupid enough to fall for that,” he said.

While he acknowledged that the police did behave better than some in other states, he said, “I suspect that had everything to do with the fact that this administration saw the G-8 and NATO coming and knew they were going to make things worse for themselves if they did the kind of violence that, say the Oakland Police or other police did,” he said.

Wednesday’s news conference and the speakers who took turns trumpeting all the events that will occur in the weeks leading up to the summits underscored just how important officials say these meetings of the leading industrial nations are to Chicago. The Group of Eight nations: the United States, France, Britain, Russia, Germany, Japan, Italy and Canada.

As with the Olympics, when officials said they hoped the games would shine a spotlight on the city and dispel the notion in parts of the world that Chicago is only a gritty, industrial hub, much of the talk Wednesday centered on attracting international tourists — and their wallets.

The way they see it, good reports from an international press corps of about 3,000 journalists expected to descend on the city for the summits can mean millions of tourist dollars in the future.

“This will clearly give us the opportunity to put Chicago on a world stage,” said Don Welsh, the Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau Board’s president and CEO.

“I’ve told our team this will be our Super Bowl of meetings and this will carry on for many, many, many years,” he said.



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