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Schism Over Chicago's Bid to Host 2016 Olympics

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By Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 2, 2009

CHICAGO, Oct. 1 -- A huge banner stretches nearly the length of the Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River. It shows a butterfly swimmer in mid-stroke. He is reaching outward, accompanied by a single word: Imagine.

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Mayor Richard M. Daley (D) and the team of stars seeking to host the 2016 Summer Olympics like to imagine spotlights and glory. If the International Olympic Committee awards them the Games on Friday, they foresee pageantry, prestige and income for their city.

An Olympic stadium would rise on the South Side. Strong turbines would churn Lake Michigan's calm waters into a whitewater kayaking course. Public transportation would improve, and developers would sink $1 billion into an Olympic village in a neighborhood that needs a boost.

"A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Daley declared in a news conference before leaving for Copenhagen, where the IOC will hear Friday from President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama before deciding among Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Speaking at a party in Denmark, Michelle Obama said she thinks of the example that the Olympics -- and Olympians -- could set for children "who can never dream of being that close to such power and opportunity."

But while Chicago's bid may have united the city's political and business elite, it has left many ordinary Chicagoans skeptical.

Fewer than half of Chicago residents in a recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll said they want the city to host the Olympics. And 75 percent opposed a guarantee -- later approved 49 to 0 by the city council -- to cover shortfalls with tax dollars if the Games were to go over budget.

The Chicago bid has been in the works for more than three years, mapped out by a host committee and fueled by tens of millions of dollars in private donations and the relentless promotion of city notables.

"From my very first meeting, I thought what an extraordinary coup for Chicago to host the most important sporting event in the world," said Valerie Jarrett, the committee vice chair before she joined the White House as an adviser to Obama. "To the committee's credit, we really were very diligent in analyzing the pros and cons."

In 2007, Chicago beat out Houston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and San Francisco to become the U.S. contender. Last year, an IOC committee ranked Chicago third among the four finalists.

The Chicago 2016 committee estimates the city could host the Games for about $4.8 billion and contends that taxpayer contributions would be minimal. Many of the facilities already exist, while some competitions would be held in temporary structures.

Civic leaders, ever touchy about Chicago's profile as a flyover city -- the local comedy club is called "Second City" for a reason -- insist the Olympics would do wonders, translating into jobs as the country emerges from recession.


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