Council fails to vote on Chicago 2016 benefits

March 18, 2009 (CHICAGO) They come after the city council failed to vote on community benefits agreement. It would have put in writing long-talked-about promises to people who may be impacted if the Olympics come to town.

Affordable housing, jobs and business opportunities for minority groups - those issues have been the subject of protest in this city many times for many years. Now though, activists believe they may have some new leverage thanks to Chicago's Olympic bid, and they're using it to demand what they see as their fair share.

"We want the city that works to work for us!" said Denise Dixon, Action Now.

There was an ultimatum for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Community activists threatened loud and embarrassing demonstrations during next month's visit by the International Olympic Committee if the city council doesn't sign off on a community benefits agreement between now and then.

"If he wants to air his dirty laundry to the owrld that is entirely up to him," Dixon said.

Some who live near the proposed Olympic Stadium in Washington Park and other venues want guarantees that the Olympics won't be a gravy train only for insiders.

They're demanding a written pledge that 50 percent of Olympic-related contracts go to minority and women-owned businesses and ten percent of all construction hours be filled by apprentices from the community. And they want 30 percent of the proposed Olympic Village to become affordable and Section 8 housing, after the Games.

Shannon Bennett has been a community activist for 15 years and concedes the Olympics provide an opportunity to be heard.

"This is a window and it's closing fast. It's not just for disenfranchised communities for the city to do right," said Bennett, Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization.

"I'm hoping that in the end they'll decide they can get enough of what they want that they can be supportive," said Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, 4th Ward.

"We are aligned on that conceptually every step of the way," said Valerie Waller, Chicago 2016 marketing director.

Chicago's Olympic bid team has been meeting for months with community groups, hoping to avoid scenes like this:

Three protestors briefly interrupted a US Olympic Committee inspection in 2007. Come April 2, there's another opportunity for groups with gripes to steal the spotlight.

"I think the IOC absolutely has had experience with coming to a city and seeing people who are less than enthusiastic about the Games. But they're also excited to see people who come out to show their support," Waller said.

The Chicago 2016 message to those considering protesting during the IOC visit is essentially this: Without the Olympics, there will be no benefits to share.

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