Aldermen raise concerns about city plans for summit

January 12, 2012 4:19:15 PM PST
A group of Chicago aldermen are raising concerns about the security measures that will be used for the G8 summit later this year.

Four months out from the event, there are lots of questions without clear answers. What will it cost to host two global events in one weekend? One ballpark figure is $45 to $60 million - money that the host committee says will come from the feds and private sources, and not taxpayers.

Security plans are a work in progress. Will there be inconvenience for downtown residents and visitors may 19th through the 21st? Without doubt, but the planners say that does not mean the Loop will be under lock and key.

The snow will be gone, but four months from now, 10,000 international dignitaries, delegates and press will arrive in Chicago for the G8 and NATO summits, and with them will come protestors and the likelihood that security will change routes of travel. The summits are scheduled for May 19 through 21 at McCormick Place.

"I wanna disabuse everyone of the notion that the Loop is closed down during the summits," said Lori Healey of the G8 and NATO Host Committee. "We're open for business."

The summit planners chafe at the notion that the Loop will be on lockdown summit weekend. It will not be, they say, but there will be some restrictions - especially for motorists. They have not been determined yet, and when they are, the Secret Service will make the final call.

"The question is how disruptive will it be, how far do they have to go, and I think it will depend on the nature of the demonstrations, but they have to be prepared for a large number of people who are prepared to violate the law," said Dr. John Allen Williams, a professor of political science at Loyola University.

Aldermen Thursday were briefed on the Emanuel administration's plan for the big weekend - how to balance first amendment rights with public safety concerns.

"I'm not so sure about the amount of police we have on the force, that that's going to be enough, but there's some sort of deputize program - policemen from other municipalities - that'll help out big time," said 36th Ward Alderman Nicholas Sposato.

The police department is expected to boost its manpower by calling in sworn officers from other cities; the number at this point has not been determined, nor has their specific function.

While there is concern with the arrival of protestors, there is also concern among aldermen about restrictions on where people can protest.

"Those calls are not made by the City of Chicago at the end," said 31st Ward Alderman Ray Suarez. "Those calls will be made by the U.S. Secret Service in April when they realize who's coming and what's going to happen."

One parade permit for protestors was approved Thursday for summit weekend. At least two more are expected. There will be designated protest areas, for which the locations are not yet determined, and they can be changed without explanation by Secret Service.

Protestors say they intend to fight any attempt to isolate them at spots far from the conferences.

"I have some personal concerns about the level of fines that are going to be imposed for exercising what could be free speech rights," said 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith.

"An expansion of what it means to be conducting yourself in a disorderly fashion, things that I may have some concerns about, permits required for demonstrations and parades that may be a little bit too onerous," said 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore.

Another alderman said the summits present an opportunity for the city to showcase itself.

"This is big for our city, it's an opportunity for our city to be on the map of the world, it's also an opportunity to bring more economic development to our city, so we want to put our best face forward as a city being viewed by the whole world," said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett.

The Emanuel administration continues to re-emphasize a commitment to freedom of speech and the right to peaceably protest. It has relaxed some proposed restrictions it wanted to put in place for the summits.

Protestors say it amounts to "sit down and shut up," or you can shout, but only from miles away.

Ultimately, the security call - where people can go, where they cannot - and whether protestors can have sound systems loud enough for foreign delegates to hear is up to the Secret Service.