By Lynn Sweet and Abdon M. Pallasch
Chicago Sun-Times Staff Reporters
Closing out the Chicago NATO Summit, President Barack Obama said Monday “Chicago performed magnificently,” encouraged global leaders to shop while they were here, thanked residents who endured traffic jams and said the protestors had a right to demonstrate.
“Obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully,” Obama said of the mayor, his former chief of staff who brought the summit to the city.
Obama made his comments at a press conference at McCormick Place where he revealed that among the gifts the U.S. gave global leaders were small replicas of an iconic Chicago landmark, the “Bean” sculpture in Millennium Park and footballs–to mark the leaders dinner Sunday night at Soldier Field.
“I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently. Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience. If you talk to leaders from around the world, they loved the city.
“Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to see the Comer Center, where wonderful stuff is being done with early education. They saw the Art Institute.
“You know, I was just talking to (British Prime Minister) David Cameron. I think he’s sneaking off, doing a little sight- seeing before he heads home.
I encouraged everybody to shop. Want to — want to boost the hometown economy. We gave each leader a bean, a small model for them to remember, as well as a football from Soldier Field. Many of them did not know what to do with it.
” So I — people had a wonderful time. And I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn’t have been more gracious and more hospitable. So I could not have been prouder.”
Obama gently scolded the Chicago press for its coverage of the downside side of the Summit–the inconveniences and the demonstrators drawn to the city to object to the world’s strongest military alliance.
“Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends is free speech and the freedom of assembly. And — and you know, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren’t all that stressed about the possibility of having some protesters here because that’s what — part of what America is about.
“And obviously, Rahm was stressed. But he performed wonderfully.
“And the Chicago police — Chicago’s finest did a great job under, you know, some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny. The only other thing I’ll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation.
Obviously Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you, you know, that’s — what can I tell you? That’s — that’s part of the price of being a world city.
“But this was a great showcase. And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home. I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight. They said I would cause even worse traffic. So I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy. “