G8 summit moved from Chicago to Camp David

March 4, 2012 10:00:00 PM PST
In a brief written statement from the White House, President Barack Obama announced Monday afternoon that the upcoming G8 summit will be held at the presidential retreat Camp David in Maryland, and not in Chicago as had been planned.

The announcement was unexpected and came without any warning, less than 12 weeks before the dual meetings were to be held.

A building firestorm of controversy surrounded the summits; including threats by anarchist organizations to disrupt life in downtown Chicago; concerns about violence and civil unrest harming ongoing city business; gridlock and the inability to get from one place to another in Chicago.

The G8 was originally scheduled to take place on May 19-20 at McCormick Place. The NATO summit was set to take place on May 20-21, also at McCormick Place.

Now the G8 will be held on May 18-19 at Camp David. Chicago will still host the NATO Summit on May 20-21.

Large blocks of hotel rooms had been booked for months and special events had been in the planning stages since last year when the events were announced. The U.S. Secret Service, which was overseeing security for what had been declared a "National Security Event," has been working on motorcade routes, street closures, rooftop sniper locations, lakeshore and convention hall perimeters.

The Chicago Police Department had been rotating officers through riot training, had canceled vacations during the summits and was juggling schedules to protect life and property in the event of civil disturbances. There have been clashes with police at previous, similar gatherings in Toronto, Pittsburgh and Seattle.

The decision was made by President Obama, according to the White House, so that G8 leaders would have a more intimate place to meet and speak freely. Mr. Obama last year selected Chicago as host city for both the Group of Eight and NATO summits on back-to-back dates in May after his former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, pressed the president for the dual meetings.

From the moment last year that his old boss awarded Chicago both the G8 and NATO summits, Mayor Emanuel was energized about Chicago becoming the first U.S. city ever to host both of them.

Then, just before 3 p.m. Monday, came a statement from the White House press secretary sent by email, which read, "to facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the president is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues."

The decision to move the G8 to Camp David was President Obama's, according to Caitlin Hayden with the National Security Council.

At the White House, Hayden told ABC7, "this is about the kind of atmosphere for the summit that the president wants." She said they "started discussions about it a few weeks ago," but doesn't know when the president first talked to Mayor Emanuel about it. They speak regularly she said, but the decision was the president's.

Public relations executive Rick Jasculca had been advising Emanuel on the joint summits and says the G8's move is unexpected but not necessarily surprising.

"In the 90s when they started to go to remote locations their feel was to make this feel more like a real summit of leaders and less of a conference," said Jasculca.

History professor and anti-terrorism expert Tom Mockaitis suggests that inflamed tensions in the Mideast may be a factor in the G8 move. But Mideast unrest is also a NATO matter, and the NATO summit in Chicago will go on as planned.

"I think there is something in the security landscape that is causing heightened security concern in Washington," said Prof. Mockaitis.

The website for the Chicago summit has been changed to only reflect NATO, which will now be a standalone summit on May 20 and 21st, but the website is still ChicagoG8Nato.org, one more piece of evidence that nobody saw the move coming.

Both administration officials and Mayor Emanuel aides stress that the change does not reflect a lack of confidence in Chicago or its security abilities.

Protesters claim role in G8 move

Protesters who had planned to march through the streets of Chicago during the G8 summit declared victory Monday night, holding a celebration in Daley Plaza.

Although no officials have publicly suggested the G8 summit is being moved because of fear of protests, the activists claim they have won regardless.

"All of the organizers in Occupy Chicago are incredibly excited that we played a role in making sure that the G8 does not descend on our city," said Rachel Perrotta, Occupy Chicago.

"Clearly no one in this town wanted the summits here aside from Mayor Emanuel and Barack Obama," said Andy Thayer, Coalition Against NATO/G8. "They were forced to yank one of them because of the opposition."

Among those opposed to the summits coming to Chicago is the Fraternal Order of Police. Protests outside summits in other cities such as Toronto have led to violent outbreaks and millions of dollars in property damage.

Chicago police have been doing special training in preparation, but now their union leaders are relieved.

"The FOP early on objected to having G8 and NATO and finally it took the Obama administration to put their foot down and say, hey, Chicago is not ready for it," said Mike Shields, FOP president.

The Occupy Chicago movement has drawn hundreds of supporters for numerous marches and protests since last summer. The group has taken the lead with other protesters in organizing plans for the G8 and NATO summits. But with the G8 now being held at Camp David, they say they plan to go ahead with their plans.

"We're going to make sure we're in the streets in such numbers with such volume that they will hear us all the way in Camp David," said Perrotta.

Officials react to G8 move

The G8 summit moving to Camp David should not take the wind out of Chicago's sails, according to the consuls general of two of the governments taking part in the G8.

NATO has larger membership and the summit will draw larger numbers of visitors to the city.

"The NATO summit will be an enormously important meeting in its own right, so for us in the consulate, this remains a really exciting opportunity both to showcase Chicago to our leaders but also for our leaders to take forward some substantive agendas," said Robert Chatterton Dickson, British consul general.

"Things will not really change a lot," said Alessandro Motta, Italian consul general. "Of course, there will be maybe two countries less, one day of meetings less, but basically it will be a very important occasion for Chicago to showcase itself to the world."

With the world still focused on Chicago during the NATO summit, many organizations have not cut back on their safety training.

The Service Employees International Union Local 1 is holding weekly classes until the NATO summit in May for its members to familiarize them with the challenges that come with such a meeting.

"There still will be a lot of folks here, there's still going to be a lot of dignitaries here, a lot of protestors here and our preparation won't change," said Tom Dobry, SEIU Local.

Dobry says SEIU is advising the door staff, custodians and engineers of dozens of residential buildings to be the eyes and ears of their buildings and to report any suspicious activity to police.

"We kind of wanted to prepare the employees to just be ready for whatever happens. Hopefully nothing will happen, but we got to be prepared for 'if,'" said Francisco Salas, condo chief engineer.

The Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau sent a memo to its members stating that the relocation of the G8 summit has not affected business.

NATO is expected to have a positive impact on hotels, dining and shopping with some delegations and global media arriving up to two weeks ahead of the start.

White House's Full Statement

"In May, the United States looks forward to hosting the G8 and NATO Summits. To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G8 partners, the President is inviting his fellow G8 leaders to Camp David on May 18-19 for the G8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political and security issues. 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."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's statement

"We wish President Obama and the other leaders well at the G8 meeting at Camp David and look forward to hosting the NATO Summit in Chicago. 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."

Chicago Host Committee's statement

"We are honored to be the first major American city to host a NATO summit and look forward to showcasing Chicago to the world. Hosting the NATO Summit is a fantastic opportunity to shine a spotlight on Chicago as a global city and an unparalleled destination for travel, tourism, and business," said Lori Healey, executive director.