Large crowds expected at election night rally

Rally pumps up business in Chicago
November 3, 2008 8:31:59 PM PST
Barack Obama will be watching the election returns in his hometown of Chicago. He is hosting a big rally in Grant Park for nearly 70,000 ticketed guests. Several downtown streets are being closed for the big event.As final preparations were underway, more details of the city's security plan are released for the major rally Tuesday night.

Up to 70,000 people with tickets were expected for Barack Obama's Grant Park event. But thousands more without tickets were expected to be in the park as well.

The area around the Petrillo Band Shell will be the center of activity for those without tickets. That's where a Jumbo-Tron TV will be set up. Security will be tight in the entire downtown area.

Personalized tickets for the event were being e-mailed to recipients.

Last week, there had been talk of maybe a million people coming Tuesday night to Grant Park. City officials declined to predict crowd size or talk numbers in any way, shape or form.

But they did reveal some information, particularly at how it pertains to people without tickets. First of all, there will be one port of entry into Grant Park Tuesday night. That is Congress Parkway, whether you have a ticket or not. If you don't have a ticket, you'll be ushered north to the band shell-Butler Field area, several blocks away from where Barack Obama will be making his actual appearance. But people in Butler Field will be able to watch on at least one and perhaps multiple Jumbo-Trons.

Street barricades are going up, porta-potties are arriving. Grant Park was taking shape for Tuesday night. Barack Obama's appearance will take place at Hutchison Field. Only those Obama supporters who were emailed tickets Monday will be allowed in - about 60,000-plus. They must show their ticket and a photo I.D. to get in.

The question is, what about the thousands who don't have tickets but are coming anyway to Grant Park? Answer - everybody, whether ticketed or not, enters through Congress Parkway. That's the only way to get in and it won't open until 8:30 p.m.

The city won't say how many people they expect, but they reserve the right to turn people away if they feel it's getting too crowded.

"We're not going to put numbers on it. We're going to take a look at exactly what's going on that day and that moment. And we're going to be prepared to accommodate the number that we can most safely accommodate. At some point we have to make a decision from a public safety perspective,"{ said Ray Orozco, Office of Emergency Management, exec. director.

Those entering Hutchinson Field will go through magnetometers. No alcohol, chairs or banners will be allowed.

"We'll have aggressive screening of certain things we're looking for, that we're working in conjunction with the Secret Service to make sure it's a safe event," said Jody Weis, Chicago Police Supt.

Despite the unknown, many without tickets are coming anyway.

"Definitely a momentous time in our country, with hopefully the first black man being a president. I just want to be a part of that, be a part of history," said Brandy Baker, who planned to go to the rally.

The park will not open until 8:30 p.m . So that presents the prospect of thousands of people who want to go, not being allowed into the park, but standing perhaps on Michigan Avenue or further west. The city says it has a plan for dealing with that, but it didn't want to articulate it because it's all part of the security plan and they don't want to play their hand too completely at this point.

Butler Field will not hold a million people. But officials wouldn't talk about specific numbers. And city workers were putting up a lot of barricades, a lot of other city equipment and certainly city time Monday. Officials maintain that the Obama campaign is paying for all of it.

I-Team: Security Details

A blanket of security is about to be thrown over the city of Chicago, that is unprecedented for Election Day.

Chicago police will have substantial backup on Election Day. The I-Team has learned that at least 73 surrounding suburbs and counties have agreed to send officers to staging centers or deployment into Chicago if needed. A 30-page internal Chicago police memo obtained by the I-Team lays out an intricate plan to keep the peace and respond to trouble.

"I don't have that many fears that I want to lay out. We've been working this ever since event was announced, with OEMC, the Secret Service, all along campaign trail," said Weis.

At a briefing Monday afternoon, Police Superintendent Jody Weis and other city officials gave few details about election night security. But extensive details were in the police order now in the hands of top city commanders.

According to the memo, Secret Service will ring Obama's South Side home, Grant Park and several downtown hotels Tuesday. And the entire Chicago Police Department will be on duty, splitting 12-hour shifts.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, when the polls open, so will the joint operations center at the city's emergency management and communication headquarters on the West Side. The JOC will feed out orders and information to a dozen command centers, controlling thousands of Chicago police officers, both police and fire helicopters, a state police airplane and Coast Guard patrols.

Most officers will be in regular uniforms and body armor but are under orders to have riot helmets nearby. The order instructs officers to "familiarize themselves with mass arrest procedures." Some gang, tactical and quick response saturation teams will wear battle dress uniforms. And according to this internal memo, tear gas teams and special weapons units will be ready to go.

"This is an unprecedented event, not the Venetian Night or Air and Water Show," said Orozco.

Therefore, Chicago police have asked the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System for help, and officers from more than 70 suburban departments will send uniform cops to the Allstate Arena in Rosemont and several other deployment sites. Initially, some suburbs balked at helping for free but have now been told they'll be reimbursed.

One specially trained unit of the Illinois National Guard will also be in Grant Park Tuesday. Officially, it is called the "Civil Support Team." The 22-soldier unit inspects for weapons of mass destruction.

Chicago's Buzz

There is a great deal of excitement about the 2008 presidential election, especially in Illinois.

Obama rose to national prominence with his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, the same year he was elected to the Senate. Four years later, he captured his party's nomination for the White House.

Gerry Roper, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, says this is an exciting time for the city and Tuesday's election will have a big impact with upwards of a million people in the Loop.

"I think it's going to have a huge impact on the city, not only from an economic standpoint, it will shine the spotlight on Chicago like we've never seen before and of course will launch us toward 2016," Roper said.

Hotel business is up, with people wanting to be a part of this election.

"We're running about an 80 percent occupancy Tuesday night, and we did see a slight tweak in maybe a 3 percent increase in our occupancy. It could be due to the fact that we are having this celebration and election tomorrow night in Chicago," said John Silvia, Palmer House.

Visitors from out of town were in town to experience this historic event.

"Obama grew up about a mile away from where I grew up, went to the high school around the corner from my house," said Michael Ing, Chicago visitor.

"I'm looking for an Obama pin right now as we were walking down the street," said Karen Tercho, Chicago visitor.

More 1,500 international journalists from across the world were in Chicago to report on the election. More are expected. Some started out in Missouri and have ended up in Chicago and will be at Grant Park. On Monday morning, they learned about our election process from the chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections.

"So much of the election process is determined on a local level. They have so much difficulty understanding why the national government, the federal government, is not more in control," said Langdon Neal, Chicago Election Board.

The eyes of the country will be on Hutchinson Field in Grant Park Tuesday night. While Obama supporters are hoping it will be a celebration, city officials are hoping it will be a safe night.

Chicago police and the Secret Service will handle unprecedented security detail for Grant Park. In fact, much of the downtown area will be under close watch, including the hotels along South Michigan Avenue.

"We are looking into the extra security measures that are happening. We are anticipating similar security as a fourth of July celebration," said John Wells, GM, Hilton Chicago.

Wells says hundreds of people are in town for the rally and the hotel will likely sell out.

"Once the announcement took place a few weeks ago that Senator Obama was going to have his speech across the street, we actually picked up about 200 rooms, 200 reservations the following two days, which is a big spike for us," said Wells.

More than 7,000 members of the media will also be attending Tuesday night.

"I think it was pretty self-evident during the convention the amount of energy, the level of excitement that everyone felt. I think we're going to feel a lot of that here, especially in Obama's home state, hometown," said Terry Glover, Johnson Publishing.

The city is preparing for thousands more who don't have tickets. The CTA and Metra will extend service to accommodate the huge crowds. Parking bans will posted from Lake Michigan on the east, to the Kennedy Expressway on the west, the Chicago River on the north, and Cermak to the south.

Chicago police will be out in force. It will be the first assignment for the department's new mobile strike force.

"You have got my complete backing guaranteed 100 percent. You have got the complete backing of this entire city," said Supt. Weis.


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