White House moves G-8 summit from Chicago to Camp David

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Chicago police won’t be taking any chances this time. Officers confronting protesters during the G-8 and NATO summits won’t have to worry about getting chemicals, acid — or bodily fluids — in their eyes, thanks to a new shipment of waterproof protective shields the city is buying for their riot helmets.

In a surprise turnaround, the White House announced Monday afternoon that Chicago won’t be hosting the controversial G-8 summit after all.

It will be held at Camp David instead of Chicago.

The NATO summit will proceed here May 20-21.

City Hall insisted that it was President Barack Obama’s decision – that Mayor Rahm Emanuel did not ask the White House to take the more controversial of the two summits off Chicago’s hands.

One leading demonstrator pledged the protests “will go forward” here despite the switch.

The White House issued a terse statement dropping the bombshell shortly before 3 p.m.

“In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the G-8 and NATO summits. To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the president is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G-8 summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

“The president will then welcome NATO allies and partners to his hometown of Chicago for the NATO summit on May 20-21, which will be the premier opportunity this year for the President to continue his efforts to strengthen NATO in order to ensure that the Atlantic Alliance remains the most successful alliance in history, while charting the way forward in Afghanistan.”

Lori Healey, executive director of the NATO-G8 Host Committee, “unequivocally” denied that Emanuel played a role in the decision or that pressure from skittish business leaders convinced the mayor to ask the White House to move G-8 somewhere else.

“I would seriously take it at its face value that the president made a decision that he wanted a much more intimate setting. There are number of very sensitive issues going on the world. To be able to speak openly and candidly” will be valuable to the world leaders, she said.

Healey tried to put the best possible face on the decision. She argued that Chicago would still play host to “50-plus countries,” including 28 NATO members and 22 partner countries.

“It has minimal impact on our planning in Chicago, except that it shortens it by 24 hours and I anticipate there will be replacement programming to highlight the city on that Saturday evening,” Healey said.

Top mayoral aides had pegged the cost of the back-to-back summits at $40 million-to-$65 million. They had repeatedly insisted that private donors and federal reimbursements would keep Chicago taxpayers off the hook.

On Monday, Healey said she doesn’t know yet whether the fund-raising bar would be lowered now that the G-8 will be held at Camp David.

But, she argued that the international spotlight will still shine brightly on Chicago.

“It’s still a fantastic opportunity to promote the city. The vast majority of all the events we were looking to do were around NATO itself. Promoting Chicago as a destination for international tourism and business is much more effective when you‚ve got 50 countries rather than eight and six of them are G-8 countries,” Healey said.

Asked whether Chicago would be less or a target for international protesters, Healey said, “Every time NATO has a meeting in Washington D.C., there are always protesters. There are people who follow these organizations around. The media in Washington and New York aren’t so focused on the protesters, but they’re always there.”

Pressed on whether Monday’s change diminishes the need for the Chicago Police Department to call in reinforcements from outside the city, Healey said, “The [police] superintendent, working with the Secret Service, will modify security plans to take into account this schedule change. But, there are still the same amount of countries with the same amount of delegates coming to Chicago.”

More than two thirds of the police department’s 12,000 have gone through training for the summits, sources say.

“This doesn’t change the planning or preparation of the Chicago Police Department. Our preparation and priorities remain the same – ensuring the public safety of our communities throughout the city, those participating in the summit as attendees as well as protecting the First Amendment rights of those who wish to exercise them,” said Melissa Stratton, a police spokeswoman.

National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Mayor Rahm Emanuel was consulted about the switch. Emanuel spokesman Sarah Hamilton said the White House called late morning or early afternoon to inform the mayor about the decision.

“I’m not going to get into details on dates, etc.” Hayden said. “But the president began to contemplate this idea a couple of weeks ago in discussions with his aides. He also speaks with Mayor Emmanuel regularly, and the president consulted him on this decision.”

Asked what changed – why Obama now wanted an “intimate” summit” – instead of what he originally planned, Hayden said, “There’s not a particular event or issue I can point to, but the president simply decided that he wanted to hold the G-8 in the more intimate setting with this small group of leaders who have a range of serious economic, political and security issues to discuss.”

She also denied that the Russian elections played any role in the decision.

Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told WLS-AM (890)’s “Roe & Roeper” show that the White House announcement about the G-8 moving was a surprise to him.

Just hours before the White House stunner, Emanuel was still talking up the back-to-back summits at McCormick Place – and playing down the political risks.

That lends credence the claim that the decision came from Washington.

“This is a unique opportunity for Chicago to showcase itself to the world and the world to see the city of Chicago,” the mayor said before the White House announcement.

“Our Police Department is highly-trained, very professional with the right leadership. And, as you saw over the fall [with the ginger handling of Occupy Chicago protesters], Chicago – unlike any other city – did not have any issues. It had the ability to protect peoples‚ First Amendment rights and also to enforce the law. I think you’ll see that in the weeks ahead.”

After the announcement, Emanuel issued statement characterizing the truncated event as still a “tremendous opportunity.”

“We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G-8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago,” the mayor said in a prepared statement.

“Hosting the NATO Summit is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Chicago to the world and the world to Chicago and we are proud to host the 50 heads of state, foreign and defense ministers from the NATO and ISAF countries in our great city May 19-21.”

Andy Thayer, a spokesman for the Coalition Against NATO-G-8, didn’t buy the City Hall spin. He believes that pressure from local business leaders concerned about an international onslaught of protesters convinced the mayor to cut the risk in half.

“There’s been a lot of grumbling from business leaders in the city about what a total pain in the neck this thing would be. [The White House] probably looked at what a mess they were gonna make of the city and decided to move part of it to Camp David,” Thayer said.

“I really think the business community began to lean on Emanuel and Emanuel probably realized he was in over his head.”

Although the economic summit will be held in the secluded environment around Camp David, Thayer stressed that the demonstrations in Chicago “will go forward, but maybe not on the 19th” of May.

“Our protest will go forward because NATO is the military arm of the G-8. NATO has bombed whole countries to smithereens and is currently engaged in the U.S.’s longest war in history,” Thayer said.

“I’d say plenty of people have got tons to be upset with NATO about. If anything, people understood much more readily what NATO was about than G-8, which is more of a shadowy institution in people’s minds.”

Joe Iosbaker of the Coalition Against NATO-G-8 said protesters originally received parade permits for May 19, the first day of the G-8 summit. Now they plan to apply for permits to march on May 20, he said.

“We’re going to ask the city to adjust our permits to conform to the dates of the summit. If the opening day is the 20th, we will want permits on the 20th,” Iosbaker said.

He said his organization and Occupy Chicago have “claimed victory” with the withdrawal of the G-8 summit from Chicago.

“They realized this would be an enormous embarrassment for the Obama administration,” he said.

Asked why the G-8 was moved from Chicago to Camp David, National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said, “The President felt that Camp David would provide an informal and intimate setting to have a free-flowing discussion with his fellow leaders. He very much looks forward to coming to his hometown for a critically important NATO Summit, as planned.”

The Obama administration and the Emanuel administration apparently under-estimated the hometown opposition to the summit and the fears of rioting that accompanied it.

The average Chicagoan never seemed sold on the potential benefits of the summit the way some business and civic leaders were.

The political benefits of the NATO summit seemed more tangible.

When Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, briefed reporters Jan. 31 about the potential topics of discussion and agreement for the twin G-8 and NATO summits, he had a longer list of potential areas of agreement among leaders at the NATO summit than he did for G-8.

Washington sources speculated Monday that negotiations with other G-8 counties must not be producing any tangible areas of agreement that would justify moving ahead with the summit in Chicago where it is generating such controversy.

Obama started contemplating moving this “a few weeks ago” Hayden said.

Asked if it was because of security concerns, Hayden said, “We have full confidence in Chicago’s ability to host both summits and NATO is still being held in Chicago.”

Emanuel had promoted the back-to-back summits here as a vehicle to showcase Chicago on the world stage.

But the mayor has run into a buzz saw of aldermanic opposition against the extraordinary security measures he wants to put in place to contain NATO and G-8 protesters – and make permanent after the world leaders depart.

Several aldermen joined the protesters in warning that the changes could stifle public dissent in Chicago for years to come.

The measures include: dramatically higher fines for resisting arrest; more surveillance cameras; parks and beaches closed until 6 a.m.; sweeping parade restrictions and higher fees for those events and empowering Police Supt. Garry McCarthy to “deputize” out of state police officers.

A large security perimeter will also prevent motorists from driving and parking on some downtown streets during the NATO and G-8 summits. The host committee has promised to reimburse the company that leased Chicago parking meters for revenues lost to spaces temporarily taken out of commission.

Chicago was to spend $40 million to $65 million to host the NATO and G-8 summits, but City Hall insisted federal reimbursements and private donations would ultimately prevent local taxpayers from getting stuck with the tab.

Emanuel’s administration was planning to tap police officers from other jurisdictions to assist Chicago Police in handling the thousands of protesters expected to descend on Chicago for the May event at McCormick Place.

Mass detention areas are anticipated, but those locations have not yet been identified.

“From Day One, the FOP has been saying to the citizens of Chicago that this is not a good idea,” said Michael Shields, president of the Fraternal Order of Police. “Finally our president listened.”

In the past, Shields has questioned whether the city provided officers with adequate training to control thousands of protesters.

Now, Shields said he hopes the federal government will reimburse the city for the training it has already done. He also wondered whether officers’ furloughs will be canceled to make them available for crowd control.

Shields also mused whether the police department still needs a separate office dedicated to planning for the G-8 and NATO summits. A chief of international relations and three deputy chiefs positions were created for that purpose, he said.

“That’s a lot of city salaries we could save,” Shields said.

Former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said, “I think it is a wise move by the president as he continues to build relationships with heads of state, some of whom may be recently elected,” referring to Russia and France.

“Whenever heads of state can get together and be informal, more gets done to build relationships,” Daley said. The informality of Camp David “breds a familiarity that can only help on the global stage.”

The G-8 summit includes the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. All the nations except for Japan and Russia are also members of NATO.

The G-8 is taking place with one, possibly two new players and that was part of Obama’s decision to seek a more informal setting, out of the spotlight of the international press.

Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia on Monday. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a strong April challenge from Socialist presidential candidate François Hollande.

With no formal entertaining – and with logistical issues minimized, the secluded setting of Camp David changes the dynamic and lets Obama proceed more on his terms at his home.

The decision to have the G-8 in Chicago, piggybacked on the NATO meeting was made before the rise of the Occupy protest movement.

When former President George Bush hosted the G-8 in the U.S. in 2004, it was outside a metropolitan area, at Sea Island, Georgia.

Contributing: Lynn Sweet

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